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Ancient Roman Clothing

Ancient Roman clothing was much different than the clothing worn by Romans of today. The clothing of Ancient Rome was fairly simple, but this was because clothes helped society identify who a person was according to their wealth, social standing within society, and sometimes even their emotional state.

Ancient Roman Clothing

Ancient Roman Clothing for Men

For men, the most accepted and common form of clothing was made up of two pieces. The first article of clothing was called the tunic and the second article of clothing was called the toga.

The Tunic

The tunic was a piece of clothing that was most often made out of wool. It was short in length and had short sleeves. Typically, the tunic was worn by itself within the home. The tunic was only covered when in public.

The tunic was typically white, but could be seen throughout Ancient Rome in other colors as well. These colors were used to denote a man's place in society. For example, white tunics were commonly worn by patricians, although some wore purple. The tunic was commonly belted tightly at the waist giving the impression that the article of clothing was two pieces rather than just one. Another version of the tunic was long in length and had long sleeves. However, this form of tunic was commonly avoided unless worn by those in the lower class, such as slaves working in the fields, because Ancient Roman society considered a man wearing this type of garment even in the privacy of their own homes to be very feminine.

The Toga

The second article of clothing that was commonly worn by men was the toga. The toga was worn over top of the tunic when going outside of the home. The toga was a heavy garment, typically made out of wool or a very fine fabric. Only those who possessed actual citizenship in Rome were permitted by law to wear this article of clothing.

The toga was uncomfortable because it was so bulky in nature. However, during the time period when Ancient Rome was ruled by the emperor Augustus, the toga was required to be worn during all aspects of public life. This law was later changed and the toga became a thing of the past when it became acceptable to cover the tunic with a cloak known as a lacerna in public. The toga became a signal of peace when it was worn and was replaced by a garment known as a sagum cloak during times of war.

During time periods when the toga was a required form of clothing for men, there were many different types that were worn to denote a man's place in society.

  • The toga virilis was the most commonly seen. This was an off-white toga that was worn by all adult men in society who did not have the social standing to wear other colors.
  • The toga praetexta was the same type of toga worn by the adult males, but it also had a purple broad stripe around the border. This toga was worn by Magistrates and Senators in Ancient Roman society.
  • The toga pulla was a toga that was dark in color and was worn by those who were in a state of mourning.
  • The toga candida was a toga that had been made to appear white in color artificially and was worn by men who were running for some sort of public office. These togas had to be as white as possible to allow the candidate to stand out amongst his peers and they were worn to signify the candidate's purity.
  • Finally, the toga picta was a purple toga that was only worn by those in high power during times of triumph, such as a celebratory parade. The toga was purple in color and embroidered with a gold thread.

Women's Fashions

Ancient Roman clothing for women was not as complex as the clothing of their male counterparts. Most women also wore two pieces of clothing, however, and one of those was a tunic. The tunic for a woman, however, was different than for a man. There were only two types of this piece of clothing that were acceptable for a woman to wear.

The first type was two pieces of rectangular cloth that were sewn together at the sides. The garment was then pulled over the head and the top edge was folded down at the breast line. The sides were then pinned to form a sleeveless dress. This type of tunic was known as a peplos. A belt was then tied at the waist or at the fold to complete the dress.

The more common type of tunic worn by women in Ancient Rome was a dress that had sleeves and two pieces of cloth that were sewn together at the top and pulled down over the head. The garment was pinned to create a number of types of styles. A belt was then worn at the breast, waist, or hips to finish off the dress. Women's tunics could be made in any color, with certain colors denoting status in society simply based on the fact that the wealthy could afford the colored fabric that was more expensive.

Women who were married were required to wear togas similar to their husbands' over their own tunics when appearing in public. These togas were fastened at the shoulder and required to drape to the feet. Makeup and jewelry could be worn by the women, but, how much and when was governed by law.

Shoes

Shoes were also worn as a part of Ancient Roman clothing with similar footwear for men and women. In the home, men and women typically wore shoes that did not cover their entire foot. These shoes resembled a pair of modern day strappy sandals. When appearing in public, a shoe was worn that is similar to the modern day shoe that covers the whole foot. All shoes in Ancient Rome were typically made out of leather and came in a variety of colors.

Clothing and Roman Life

Getting dressed in Ancient Rome, therefore, was a project dictated by rules of social standing and social custom. The options of those in Rome differed based on their sex, wealth, and social position and clothing played an important role in defining a person's place in the world.