Jul 22, 2020 in History

Ancient Roma’s Fashion

In Ancient Rome, fashion reflected the key social and political developments of society. Thus, the Roman costume has changed during the long history of its development. These significant modifications were directly related to the profound changes in the social system of Rome and its culture. The Roman costume was similar to the Greek fashion before the 2nd century AD, and its features were close to the standards of Hellenes. The ​​self-sufficient natural beauty of the human figure was the prevalent idea that kept the simplicity of décor. Accordingly, the Ancient Roman fashion was a complex mechanism of distinguishing the social status of Romans. Thus, it often regulated and established different types of relationships between people, the main of which was a sense of self-importance and belonging to the great Roman Empire.

The toga had a special symbolic role for Romans because it distinguished the aristocrats and privileged people from the ordinary citizens. In this case, the Roman poet Virgil mentioned in Aeneid: “Romans, lords of the world and the toga-wearing people.” More to say, the toga was not even a part of the clothing but more a symbol of maturity, belonging to the Empire of Rome. A young man wore the toga to underline that he had found the rights of the Roman citizens. However, slaves and foreigners were not allowed to wear these clothes. The toga was the official clothing, especially for rich people, but over time, they began to wear less. Martial wrote that people wore the toga once or twice a month in small towns of Italy when the family made a holiday in the honor of Lares, god of the cultivated fields, which made the toga a ceremonial clothing. In Rome itself, at least at the time of the late Republic, the citizens increasingly came wrapped in a cloak or blanket. The color and decoration of the toga depended on one’s social status. The everyday toga of a Roman citizen was white without additional details and ornaments. The free citizens of lower status could wear the toga only of dark brown and gray colors.


White was the most privileged color of clothing in the early Roman period. In the late stages, white partially retained its value as a color of the officials, especially during the celebration of sacrifices and other religious ceremonies and rites. Senators, magistrates, and high priests wore the white toga with a broad purple, or rather cherry-red, border along the chord segment. A wide purple border on the edge of the toga meant belonging to the senatorial status, and only the members of a magistrate could use such a style. However, only a triumphant could wear the purple toga with gold ornamentation and a crown of laurel; later, emperors also wore this type of clothing as the highest regalia in Ancient Rome. Nevertheless, with time, the toga went out of fashion, and people wore it only where it was necessary, including various games, the court, and other official occasions, for example, sacrifices. Furthermore, the customers who came in the morning to greet patrons also wore the toga. Therefore, it was not only an ordinary type of clothing but also a powerful distinguishing tool of the social rank that determined certain rituals and standards.

The most typical Roman clothing for men was the shoulder tunic that throughout the history of Rome was a mandatory part of the male suit. The history of Roman costume distinguishes three main types of tunic - the ordinary tunic, the T-shaped tunic, and the dalmatic. Romans borrowed the tunic from the Greek fashion, but it was narrower and shorter in length, only reaching the knee. In this manner, all strata of the population wore the tunic to the end of the 2nd century AD. Hence, this long but still uncomfortable type of clothing changed the previous style that formed an elbow space with fake sleeves by tightening the belt at the waist. More to say, narrow girdles or laces fixed the Roman tunics. There was no decor on both types of the tunic in the early stages of Roman fashion, and the cloaks often limited it. On the contrast, a gold pattern (palmetto) was used to decorate the tunics of victors and emperors. Later, the décor with ornamental stripes of various forms in many places of the tunic was appeared in the Roman fashion. Finally, there were the tunics with a patterned fabric, and only the richest people in Rome could wear this type of tunic. In this case, the ornamented accessories often distinguished wealthy Romans from each other. The large dalmatic to the calves was popular in the late stage of the Roman fashion, and it was introduced as outerwear of the nobility at the end of the 2nd century AD.

Male and female clothing was already different in the early period of Ancient Rome, when women wore Greek clothing and men continued to wear the togas and cloaks. This noticeable difference existed up to the times of the empire, when male and female clothing become similar with the rapid spread of the same type of blind dress costumes. Nevertheless, there was a significant difference between them, and it reflected both class and gender differentiation. For instance, Roman slaves did not wear the long main clothes of Roman females. Furthermore, it was also forbidden to wear bright clothes because they belonged to the courtesan’s style. The female cloak (palla) was the ordinary dress for Roman women. Palla could easily go down, and a belt fastened it around the waist. Many famous Roman designers also manufactured the cloaks from expensive wool with different variations. The basis of the female costume was also a draped cloak that remained in use until the 4th century AD. At the first stages, there was oriental fabric with a large pattern, and then, the Greek silk was used, replacing other fabrics.

However, the military character of the Roman state and its global domination led to the emergence of a static costume, with its majesty and relative complexity as compared to a Greek costume. Since the 3rd century AD, the clothing dramatically changed due to the growing crisis of slave society and the ancient culture. The specific properties of the fashions began to fade, and the enveloping clothing was mainly replaced by a solid dress. The scapular mantle as a part of the national costume appeared in the period of the late Empire. It was a small range of coarse wool or skin of sheep that was cut out as a hole for the head. As for the shoes, it was the required element of costume for all Romans. They mainly wore sandals at home, so this footwear was very practical in use. The masters made shoes from a treated skin, and then carefully machined and painted with beautiful décor. Therefore, the degree of master’s work and ornamentation determined the fashion of shoes. Typically, the wealthiest Roman citizens had high and carefully trimmed shoes, decorated with beautiful patterns.

The military clothing also was crucial for Romans and it differed from the civil fashion by its simplicity and practicality. For example, the sagum was the military cloak for the Roman soldiers as opposed to the civilian toga. It was a rectangular piece of thick, coarse woolen cloth. The soldier often rushed it back and then fixed with the fibula on the right shoulder or in front of the throat. It was easy to wrap in this cloak, and the soldier could throw both of the polls behind his back, so it did not restrict his movements. Moreover, it was comfortable during long crossings, and the Roman soldiers often used it when they were on guard. These cloaks did not hinder soldiers’ movements during the fight, as they could throw it on the left arm or fasten it at the back. The paludamentum was a red cloak for a commander in the period of the Republic. Typically, a commander officially wore this cape during the ceremony on the Capitol Hill. Later, paludementum became a symbol of imperial strength, so it was no longer a part of the military fancy dress.

In conclusion, the Ancient Roman costume was similar to the Greek clothing, but it had a more visible caste-class differentiation. The main types of Roman clothing were the toga and the tunic. The most popular fashion was the former, as Romans should wear it in their everyday life. It was possible to distinguish a senator from a commander and an ordinary soldier from a priest by looking at their tunics. Moreover, the aristocratic atmosphere of the republic, the privileged position of Roman citizens, and the developed bureaucracy headed by the emperor created the conditions for the development of fashion in Ancient Rome. Different social groups tried to emphasize their uniqueness and appearance in clothing by wearing the colored tunics, ornamented shoes, and the costumes made from a thin thread. The class differentiation also manifested the quality and consistency of the ruling Roman elite and other people. Thus, the Roman fashion was an important part of society, changing it from inside and creating the conditions for the development of new types of dressing.


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