Roman clothing

From Academic Kids

Clothing in ancient Rome generally consisted of the toga, the tunic, the stola, brooches for these, and breeches.


Primary Materials


The Romans used several different types of fibers. Wool was likely used most often, as it was obtained easily and was relatively easy to prepare. Other materials used were linen and hemp, even though a more complex preparation process is required to create cloth from these sources than from wool. There is some evidence that cotton was used,but less often. Silk, imported from several locations also was known.

Wild silk, that is, cocoons collected from the wild after the insect had eaten its way out, also was known. Wild silk, being of smaller lengths, had to be spun. A rare luxury cloth with a beautiful golden sheen, known as sea silk, was made from the byssus or fibres produced by Pinna noblis, a large Mediterranean seashell.

Naturally, these different fibers had to be prepared in different ways. According to Forbes, their wool contained around 50% fatty impurities, flax and hemp were about 25% impure, silk was between 19 and 25% impure, while cotton (the most pure of all the source fibers) contained only 6% impurities.

Wool, the most commonly used fiber, was most likely the first material to be spun. The sheep of Tarentum were renowned for the quality of their wool, although the Romans never ceased trying to optimise the quality of wool through cross-breeding. Wool was spun by the lanarii pectinarii. The production of linen and hemp was very similar to that of wool and was described by Pliny the Elder. After the harvest, the material would be immersed (most probably in water), it would be skinned and then aired. Once dry, the fibers would be pressed mechanically (with a mallet) and then smoothed. Following this, the materials were woven. Linen and hemp both are tough and durable materials.

Silk and cotton were imported, from China and India respectively. Silk was rare and expensive; a luxury afforded only to the richest and worn by women. Another type of silk, called "sea silk" was obtained from a mollusk and it was a luxury item as well.

The Romans had to turn their material with a manual spinner. Iron alum was used as the base fixing agent and it is known that the marine gastropod, Haustellum brandaris, was used as a red dye, due to its purple-red colorant (6,6'-dibromoindigotin); the color of the emperor. A more widely used tint was indigo, allowing blue or yellow shades, while madder, a dicotyledon angiosperm, produced a shade of red and was one of the cheapest dyes available. According to Pliny the Elder, a blackish colour was preferred to red. Yellow, obtained from saffron, was expensive and reserved for the clothing of married women or the Vestal Virgins. There were far fewer colours than we have today.

Archaeological discoveries of Greek vases depict the art of weaving, while writers in the field of antiques mention the art of weaving and fiber production. Some clothes have survived for several centuries and, as clothing is necessary, examples are numerous and diverse. These materials often provide some of the most detailed and precious information on the production means used, on the dyes used, on the nature of the soil where the materials were grown and, therefore, on trade routes and climate, among many other things.

Historical research in the area of ancient clothing is very active and it allows researchers to understand a great deal about the lifestyle of the Romans. The materials used were similar to those used by the ancient Greeks, except the tilling process had been ameliorated and the tilled linen and wool were of a far superior quality.

Hides, leather, and skins

The Romans had two main ways of tanning, one of which was mineral tanning, or "tawing" – making hide into leather without the use of tannin, especially by soaking it in a solution of alum and salt. The Romans used tools that resembled those that would be used in the Middle Ages.

The tanned leather then was used to fashion heavy coats to keep Roman soldiers warm during travel, and in more frigid areas of Rome, it was used during cold seasons.

The leather was not given to the soldiers by the military commanders or overseers, but rather from the soldier's wives and familyTemplate:Fact before the soldiers left for a campaign.

Although leather sometimes was used for protection against poor weather, its primary useTemplate:Fact was as a secondary, or less expensive armor. Roman belts, wristbands, and leather arm guard (manica Latin)were made for troops, and more commonly, the gladiators. Many of the items were increased quantitatively because of practical use during the first century A.D. among Roman Legionaries.

Animal skins were worn over the helmet with bearskins being popular among legionaries and feline among with Preatorians. Ancient Roman taxidermists would retain the entire body and the head, with the front legs tied to fasten over the armor. The animal's head would fit over the soldier's helmet, and mostly was worn by the Roman aquilifer who carried the symbol of Rome into battle.

The Romans rarely used goatskin for their leatherTemplate:Fact, preferring pig or sheepskin, although the ideal would be the preferred leather was that most readily available – cattle skin. The thickest and most durable leather was used for shoe soles.

Types of Clothing

Looms and their effect on clothing

In general, individual clothes were woven on vertical looms during antiquity. This contrasts with the medieval period when cloth was produced on foot-powered horizontal looms that later was made into clothes by tailors. Evidence for the transition between these two distinct systems, from Egypt, suggests that it had begun by 298 AD but it is likely that it was very gradual.The weaver sat at the horizontal loom producing rectangular lengths of cloth which never were wider than the weaver's two arms could reach with the shuttle. Conversely, a weaver who stood at a vertical loom could weave cloth of a greater width than was possible sitting down, including the toga, which could, and did, have a complex shape.

Women's clothing

After the second century BC, besides tunics, women wore very simple stola and usually followed the fashions of their Greek contemporaries. These stoles usually consisted of two rectangular segments of cloth joined at the side by safety pins, brooches and, finally, buttons in a manner that allowed the garment to drape freely over the front of the wearer. Over the stole the palla usually was worn; a sort of shawl made of an oblong piece of material that could be worn as a coat, with or without hood, or slung over the left shoulder, under the right arm and then draped over the left arm [1] (


The Romans later wore undergarments, a tunic, often a simple rectangle sewn into a tubular shape and pinned around the shoulders like a chiton. The strophium or breast cloth, was another form of undergarment. The Latin word for underpants, subligaria was revealed by the Vindolanda tablets.

Official clothing

The dress code of the day was complex and had to reflect one's position accurately in the social order, one's gender, and one's language.


Main article: Toga

The variations of clothing worn in Rome were similar to the clothing worn in Greece at the same time, with the exception of the traditionally Roman toga. Until the second century B.C., the toga was worn by both genders and bore no distinction of rank - after that, a woman wearing a toga was marked out as a prostitute. The differentiation between rich and poor was made through the quality of the material; the upper-classes wore thin, naturally colored, wool togas while the lower-classes wore coarse material or thin felt. They also differentiated by colours used:

  • the toga praetextata, with a purple border, worn by male children and magistrates during official ceremonies
  • the toga picta or toga palmata, with a gold border, used by generals in their triumphs
  • trabea' - toga entirely in purple, worn by statues of deities and emperors
  • saffron toga - worn by augurs and priestesses, white with a purple band, also worn by consuls on public festivals and equites during a transvectio

Red Borders - Blue Borders -

Religious ceremonies

  • laena - worn by the king and the flamens at sacrifices
  • crocota - saffron robe worn by women during ceremonies to Cybele


A typical Roman sandal (calceus or calceolus for the women) consisted of a leather sole with a long lace that was wound up the wearer's leg. The lacing of a typical Roman shoe always would leave a part of the foot exposed. Numerous variations of these two models have been found. The majority of Roman shoes took inspiration from their Greek counterparts. It is assumed that the quality of women's shoes was judged on how thin and light the leather was. The Romans also invented socks for those soldiers required to fight on the northern frontiers, sometimes worn inside sandals.[2] (


  • baxa - a light sandal worn by intellectuals
  • carbatina - a shoe made by peasants from a single piece of leather
  • caliga - soldier's sandals (cf Caligula)
  • cothurnus and crepida - used by the actors
  • pero - boot for agricultural workers
  • sandalium - or obstrigilium - women's sandals
  • phaecasium - white shoe of eastern priests
  • sculponae - clogs
  • soccus - slippers without upperwork for indoor wear by both sexes
  • solea - slipper with upperwork

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