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Roman Fashion:

For Women - In general, civilian clothing was made of linen or wool in a variety of colors, and at times, cotton or silk. While variations did exist as a result of social status, the sillhouette of Roman women in the 1st Century was affected by a few basic garments:

The tunica is the basic woman's garment. It is 26" to 40"+ wide and reaches to the ankles when belted. It is generally sleeveless, and the neckline is made by leaving part of the top edge unsewn. The top can also be held with buttons or brooches (fibulae).

The stola is worn by a married Roman woman, but it is very simialr to the tunica. Sometimes the stola is shown pleated vertically and fastened along the top edge. It is wide enough and long enough to cover the tunica even when belted . There can be one belt slightly above the waist, and/or a second belt directly under the bust.

Another option for the Roman woman is the Greek peplos. The peplos was made from two rectangular pieces of cloth sewn together on the lower portions of both sides; the open sections at the top were then folded down in the front and back. This garment was fastened at the shoulders, forming a sleeveless dress; and belted over or under the overhanging folds, which may end above the waist or extend almost to the knees.

The palla is a large rectangular wrap, at least 5' by 9'. It is roughly equivalent to a man's toga, and was always worn in public.

While the tunica often served as an undergarment, there are also references to the supparum, subucula, and (for matrons) indusium, slip-like garments, hanging from the waist. Additionally, Roman women wore the strophium, a brassiere. The strophium is a band of soft linen 6" to 8" wide (or a folded wider strip), long enough to go around the body at least twice.

Hair styles were amazingly varied. While upper-class women favored elaborate arrangements, especially after the Augustan period, simpler hairdos were coiled braids or a bun. Girls and women traditionally tied their hair back with thin woolen bands called vittae, which were considered spiritual protection. See this page for some excellent examples of Roman hairstyles.

For Men - In general, civilian clothing was made of linen or wool, and consisted of the tunic(s) and footwear.

The civilian tunic can be any color, is long enough to cover the knees, and is worn with a narrow cloth or leather belt. The most common style for men of the 1st Century was sleeveless with an opening at the top for the neck. Senators wore a white tunic with two broad purple vertical clavii (stripes) running from shoulder to hem. Equestrians were permitted to wear narrow clavii. Stripes in colors other than purple on white are seen on tunics of everyday citizens and slaves.

The chiton is the Greek tunic, made like the woman's peplos with an overhanging fold of cloth which reaches almost to the waist.

Romans wore a variety of cloaks, including the paenula, laena, lacerna, sagum, cucullus, and the Greek himation. The sagum and the himation are rectangular, and the paenula is semicircular or oval. The lacerna was semi-circular and pinned at the right shoulder, and the laena is a circular or semi-circular cloak worn by a priest, and clasped in back. The cucullus is hooded and similar to the paenula, but shorter, worn by many workers and slaves. Historical references are confusing and contradictory, and these terms may have been somewhat interchangable.

The subligaculum is a loincloth fastened with a belt. When tied at the waist, it may be called a perizoma.


Our members recommend their favorite books on Roman fashion:

Roman Clothing and Fashion, by A.T. Croom
This book covers men's and women's fashions, clothing, shoes, hairstyles, hats, makeup and jewelery. Very good descriptions and evidence for all conclusions, and a good description of gap-sleeved tunics, among other things.


Etruscan Dress, by Larissa Bonafante
Great book for those interested in the styles of the Etruscans. This volume covers fabrics, styles, accessories, and foreign influences for both men's and women's fashion.


The World of Roman Costume, by Judith Lynn Sebesta
An excellent resource for reconstruction of Roman costume. Lots of information about status and dress. Highly recomended!


The Artifice of Beauty, by Sally Pointer
Only one chapter on Roman times, but very well researched and described. Ms. Pointer also has a website that shows how a Roman woman would have been made up in early Imperial times. Click here to see it.


You may also browse our complete list of recommendations.


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