Ancient Roman clothing

Ancient Roman clothing was quite different from today's clothing. Romans did not wear sweaters, shirts and trousers but rather togas and tunics. The tunica was a rectangle that was pinned around the shoulders and sewn at the edges to form a tubular shape. It was the basic garment of both men and women worn under a toga. The toga was a cloth made of (thick) wool and wrapped around the body. It was usually 6 meters (20 feet) in length. The toga orginated from the Etruscans and was introduced by Numa Pompilius the second king of Rome. Romans also wore sandals called sandalia and shoes called calcei.

Just like today there were different clothes for men and for women. Men usually wore a tunic or a toga while women wore a stola which was like a dress worn over a tunic. Women also wore the palla over the stola, which was like a shawl that sometimes had a hood. They also had various decorative elements on the stola. Men often wore sandals while women wore closed shoes. Women clothes would usually have bright colors and women shoes also had various colors.

ancient roman clothing

Plebeian tunic, woman wearing the palla, Senator
wearing the toga

The Ancient City, P. Connolly H. Dodge

Ancient Roman clothing distinguished social classes

Roman clothing also distinguished the different social classes. For example, plebeians wore a tunic that was often dark and made of an inexpensive material or thin wool felt. In contrast, patricians wore white tunics made of expensive linen or fine wool or even silk which was very rare at the time. Shoes also indicated social status. Patricians wore expensive red sandals with an ornament at the back or red shoes called the calcei mullei. Plebeians wore (worn out) leather sandals.

There was also a specific clothing for senators and magistrates. Senators would wear tunics with purple stripes called tunica laticlavi, noting that purple was also an expensive color. Magistrates wore another kind of tunic called the tunica angusticlavi. Generals would wear the toga palmata which had a gold border in order to celebrate their triumps. Emperors wore the trabea which was an entirely purple toga.

Incredible facts about Roman clothing
  • It was forbidden for slaves to wear the toga which could only be worn by Roman citizens.
  • It was also forbidden for the plebeians to wear the toga worn by patricians.
  • Togas were also worn by women until the 2nd century B.C.. From the 2nd century B.C. onwards, a woman wearing a toga was branded a prostitute.
  • Trousers were considered to be barbarous garments worn by the Persians or barbarians in Germania. They became however in use towards the end of the Western Roman Empire which was considered by some as a sign of decadence.

SOURCES

  • The World of Roman Costume (J. L. Sebesta L. Bonfante, University of Wisconsin Press 1st edition, 2001)
  • Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture (J. Edmondson, University of Toronto Press, 2009)
  • Roman Clothing and Fashion (A. Croom, Amberley Publishing, 2012)

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