The clothing of the Romans was simple. They usually wore 2-3 articles of clothing not including shoes. All the garments varied in material and name from time to time. There was little change in style during the late empire and early empire. Early contact with the Greeks on the south and with the Etruscans on the north gave the Romans a taste for beauty that was expressed in the grace of their flowing robes.
Clothing for men and women were very similar. Roman writers assigned each article of clothing into two classes according to how it was worn. One was indutus (put on), that was considered under garments. (Underwear) The other was called amictus (wrapped around), that was outer garments.
The closest article of clothing was called a subligaculum, which in modern terms means a pair of shorts or a loincloth. It is said to have been the only undergarment in early times. The family of the Cethegi who wore a toga over a subligaculum continued this practice throughout the Republic. Candidates for public office and men, who wished to pose as champions of old-fashioned simplicity, wore a subligaculum. At (best times) the subligaculum was worn under a tunic or was replaced by it.
There was no regular underwear like we have today. Old men in poor health wound strips of woolen cloth like spiral puttees around their legs for warmth, or wore wraps or mufflers, but such things were considered marks of old age or weakness, not to be used by healthy men.
Originally, Romans had no trousers, but later they adopted one for riding and hunting. It was called the Gallic bracae. It resembled riding breeches. Sometimes Roman soldiers stationed in the north wore bracae for warmth.
Tunics were adopted in early times and became the chief garment in the indutus class. (Undergarments) It was a plain woolen shirt made of two pieces, back and front, sewed together at the sides and on the shoulders. Openings were left for the arms and the head. The cloth extending beyond the shoulders formed sleeves, but these were usually short, not quite covering the upper arm. A tunic reached from the shoulders to the calf of the wearer, who could shorten it by pulling it up through a belt; usually it covered the knees in front and was slightly shorter in the back. A tunic to the ankles was an unmanly fad.
A tunic was the informal indoor costume, as a toga was a formal garment. A man at work wore only a tunic, but no Roman of any social or political standing appeared at a social function or in a public at Rome without a toga. Even when the tunic was hidden by a toga, good form required it to be belted.
Two tunics were often worn: tunica interior, tunica exterior. (You should be able to figure this one out!) People who suffered from extreme cold, like Augustus (You should know who this guy is.), wore more than two tunics. Woolen tunics were worn all year round.
The tunic of an ordinary citizen was made of plain white wool. Knights and senators had stripes of garnet (the Roman purple), one running from each shoulder to the bottom of the tunic in both back and front. The stripes were woven in the material. A knight's tunic was called angusti clavi (with narrow stripe) and a senator's, lati clavi (with a wide stripe). Under an official knight or senator tunic, a plain white tunic is usually found. Like father like son, a boy wore a subligaculum and tunic; children of the poorer classes probably wore nothing else. But in well-to-do-families, a boy wore a toga praetexta until he reached manhood and put on a plain white one. A toga praetexta has a border of garnet.
The toga was the most oldest and important garment that a man wore. It went back to the earliest times, and for more than a thousand years the toga was the sign of Roman citizenship. It was a heavy white woolen robe that enveloped the whole figure and fell to the feet. It was massive and bulky, yet graceful and dignified in appearance. However, it suggested formality. In any social gathering or event, Romans had to wear a toga.
The toga was a symbol of citizenship. Wearing a toga, a Roman citizen took his bride from her father's house to his own. In his toga, he received his clients who were required to wear togas. He was able to be elected to office and served, governed his province, celebrated a triumph if awarded one, and in a toga he was wrapped when he lay for the last time in his atrium.
No foreign nation had a robe of the same material, color, or style; no foreigner was allowed to wear a toga, even though he lived in Italy or in Rome itself. A banished citizen left his toga behind him, together with his civil rights. Vergil quote, "Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam." (Romans, lords of the world, the race that wears the toga.)
Slaves were given a tunic, wooden shoes, and for bad weather, a cloak. Poor working class citizens probably wore the same thing. They have little use for them even if they had one.
The general appearance of the toga is well known, for there are many statues of togaed men. Writers described the shape of the togas they wore. In the earlier form, it was less bulky and fitted closer to the body. However, during the classical period its arrangement was so complicate that a man needed the help of a trained slave to put on his toga.
In its original form a toga was probably a rectangular blanket; but it was not colored. It has always been made out of undyed wool. Its development into the characteristic roman style began when one edge of the garment was made curved instead of straight. For a man five feet six inches tall such a toga would be about four yards long and a yard and three-quarters wide.
The garment was thrown over the left shoulder from the front so that the curved edge fell over the left arm, while the front end hung about halfway between knee and ankle. A few inches of the straight or upper edge were drawn up into folds on the left shoulder. The long portion remaining was then drawn across the back, while the folds passed under the right arm, and across the breast, and were thrown backwards over the left shoulder. The end fell down the back to a point a trifle higher than the corresponding end in front. The right shoulder and arm were free; the left, covered by folds.
Togas of the Classical Times
Statues of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC show a larger and longer toga, more loosely draped, drawn around over the right arm and shoulder instead of under the arm. By the end of the Republic the toga was still large but shaped and draped differently. The lower corners were rounded, and a triangular section was cut off each upper corner.
The garment was then folded length-wise so that the lower section was wider than the other. The upper part (AFEB) was called the sinus (fold). One end (A) hung from the left shoulder, reaching to the ground in front. The folded edge lay on the left shoulder against the neck. The rest of the folded length was brought across the back under the right arm, across the breast, and over the left shoulder again, as in the earlier toga. The sinus fell in a curve over the right hip, crossing the breast diagonally, in folds enough to serve as a pocket for carrying small articles. The right arm was left free, but the folds could be drawn over the right shoulder or over the head from the rear. Caesar and Cicero wore this type of toga.
An early toga may well have been one piece but the larger ones must have been two sections sewed together. Much of the grace of the garment must have been the care of the slaves who kept them properly creased when it was not in use. There is no mention of pins or tapes used to hold the folds. The part falling from the left shoulder over the back kept everything in place by its weights, which was sometimes increased by lead sewed in the hem.
This fashionable toga was so heavy that arms and legs could not move fast. (Oh no - Watch out for that chariot - Squish!) Cicero said that these young men wore "sails, not togas."
The toga was a burdensome garment in more than one way, for it cost so much that a poor man, especially on of the working class, could hardly afford it. It explains the eagerness with which Romans welcomed relief from civic and social duties that required wearing it. Juvenal and Martial praise the simple life in country towns, where even city officials might appear publicly in clean white tunics instead of togas.
Special Kinds of Togas
For certain observances part of the toga was drawn over the head. (The sinus part was used.) The cinctus Gabinus was another manner of arranging the toga for certain sacrifices and official rites. For this the sinus was drawn over the head; then the long end, which usually hung down the back from the left shoulder, was drawn from back to front, and tucked in there.
The toga of an ordinary citizen, like his tunic, was the natural color of the wool from which it was made, and varied in texture according to the quality of the wool. It was called toga pura (plain toga), or toga virilis (man's toga), or toga libera (free toga). A dazzling brilliance could be given to a garment with a preparation of fuller's chalk, and one so treated was called toga candida (white toga). All men running for office all wore this toga. Hence, office seekers today are called candidates.
Curule (high-ranking) magistrates, censors, and dictators wore the toga praetexta, with a border of purple. It was also worn by boys and by the chief officials of free towns and colonies. The border was woven or sewed on the curved edge.
The toga picta (crimson, embroidered in gold), was worn in triumphal processions by victorious generals, and later by emperors.
A toga pulla was a dingy toga worn by men in mourning or threatened with some calamity. Those who wore it were called sordidati (shabby) and were said mutare vestem (to change their dress). This "changing of dress" was common when publicly demonstrating sympathy for/with a fallen leader. In this case, curule magistrates merely changed their bordered togas to plain ones, and only the lower orders wore the toga pulla.
In Cicero's time it was just coming into fashion, a cloak called lacerna, which seems to have been used first by soldiers and the lower classes, and then adopted by the upper classes because of it's convenience. Men of wealth first wore it to protect their togas from dust and/or rain. It was a woolen cape, short, light, and open at the side, but fastened with a brooch or buckle on the right shoulder. It felt so good on and easy to put on that men began to wear it without a toga underneath. This practice became so general that Augustus issued an edict (an order) forbidding the use in public assemblies. Under later emperors the lacerna came into fashion again and was the common outer garment at theaters. There were dark colored ones for poor people, bright ones for gay (happy) occasions, and white for formal wear. Sometimes a lacerna had a hood or cowl, which could protect the head from weather or use as a disguise.
The military cape at first called trabea, then sagum, was much like a lacerna, but made of heavier material. The paludamentum, worn by generals, was purple and sometimes had threads of gold. A paenula, an earlier garment than the lacerna, was worn by all sorts and conditions of men as protection against rain or cold. It was a dark, heavy cloak of coarse wool, leather, or fur. It varied in length. (Long ones reached below the knees.) It was usually sleeveless, with a hood or a neck opening through which the wearer thrust his head.
The paenula permitted less freedom of movement than the lacerna because it covered the arms and head. A slit in front from the waist down enabled the wearer to draw the cloak up over one shoulder, leaving one arm free and exposed to the weather. A paenula was worn by the upperclasses as a travelling cloak over either tunic or toga. Paenulae were also worn by slaves, and were issued regularly to soldiers stationed where the climate was severe.
We know very little of other garments. The synthesis (dinner costume) was a garment put on over the tunic by the ultrafashionable. It was worn outdoors only during the Saturnalia and was usually of some bright color. The trabea (worn by augurs or in laemen's terms a priest who tells about the future.) seems to have been striped with scarlet and purple.
The laena and abolla were heavy woolen cloaks. The abolla was a favorite with poor people. Professional philosophers who were often careless in dress especially wore it. Men used the endromis (something like a bathrobe) after exercise.
Free men did not appear in public at Rome with bare feet unless they were extremely poor. Two styles of footwear were in use, soleae (sandals) and calcei (shoes). Before this footwear, soles of leather or matting attached to the feet by straps. They were worn with a tunic when an outer garment did not cover it. Customarily their use was limited to the house. Sandals were not allowed during meals; host and guest wore them into the dining room, but as soon as the men took their places on the couches, slaves removed the sandals and kept them until the meal was over. The phrase "soleas poscere" (ask for one's sandals) came to mean, "prepare to leave."
A Roman shoe, like a modern one, was made of leather. It covered the upper part of the foot as well as the sole, and was fastened with laces or straps. A man wore shoes outside even though they were heavier and less comfortable than sandals. If he rode to dinner, he wore sandals; if he walked, he wore shoes, while his slave carried his sandals. It was improper to wear a toga without shoes, since calcei were worn with all garments classed as amicti. (Go back to Roman Clothing)
Senators wore thick-soled shoes, open on the inside at the ankle, and fastened by wide straps. These straps ran from the sole and were wrapped around the leg and tied above the instep. Patricians wore the mulleus (a patrician shoe) originally only, but later by all curule magistrates. Red like the mullus (mullet) from which it was named, it resembled a senator's shoe, and had an ivory or silver ornament of crescent shape on the outside of the ankle.
Ordinary citizens wore shoes open in front and fastened by a leather strap that ran across the shoe near the top. Some shoes have eyelets and laces. They were not so high as senatorial shoes and were probably of undyed leather. Poor people wore coarse shoes, sometimes of untanned leather. Labors and soldiers wore wooden shoes or stoutly made half caligae (boots). (Note: Caligula means little boots.)
No stockings were worn, but people with tender feet sometimes wrapped them in woolen sloth, to keep their shoes from rubbing. (In short a sock.) A well-fit shoe had a good appearance and was comfortable. Vanity, however, seemed to have lead to tight shoes.
A man of upper classes in Rome ordinarily went bareheaded. In bad weather he wore a lacerna or paenula, sometimes with a hood. If a man was caught without a wrap in a sudden shower, he could pull his toga up over his head. Poorer men, especially those, who worked outdoors all day, wore a conical felt cap, called pilleus. This may have been in early times a regular part of all Roman citizen's costume, for it was kept as part of the insignia of the oldest priesthood's, and was worn by a freed slave as an indication of his new status.
A causia or petasus (resembled a sombrero), was a broad-brimmed felt hat of foreign origin that protected the head of the upper class. This kind of hat was also worn by the old and feeble, and in later times by all classes in the theaters. Indoors, men went barehead.
Styles of Hair and Beards
In early times Romans wore long hair and full beards. According to Varro, professional barbers first came to Rome in 300 BC, but razors and shears were used before the beginning of history. Citizens of wealth and position had their hair and beards kept in order by their own slaves. Slaves who were skillful barbers brought good prices. Men of the middle class went to public barbershops, which became gathering places for idlers and gossips. The very poor found it cheap and easy to go unshaven. But in all periods, hair and beard were allowed to grow as a sign of sorrow as much a part of mourning as mourning clothes.
Different styles of hair and beard varied with the age of the man and the period. The hairs of children (boys and girls) were allowed to grow their hair long and hang around the neck and shoulders. When a boy became a man, he had to cut off his locks; sometimes with great formality. During the Empire they were often made an offering to some god. In classical times, young men wore close-clipped beards. Mature men were clean-shaven and wore their hair short. Most statues that have survived show beardless men until well into the 2nd century of our era. But when Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) wore a beard, full beards became fashionable.
Rings were the only kind of jewelry worn by a Roman citizen, and good taste limited him to a single ring. The ring often had a precious stone and made still valuable by the carving of the gem. The original ring was made of iron. Until late in the Empire, iron rings were generally worn, even when a gold ring was no longer the special privilege of a knight, but merely the badge of freedom. Usually these were seal rings used for ornaments. Such a ring was a device, which the wearer pressed into melted wax when he wished to acknowledge some document as his own or to seal a cabinet or chest.
Of course there were men who violated good taste in the matter of jewelry, as well as their choice of clothes and their hair and beards. It was not surprising to hear of a man with sixteen rings on a hand or six on a finger. One of Martial's acquaintances had a ring so large that he was advised by the poet to wear it on his leg. More surprising is the ring was often worn on the joint of the finger for easy use of the seal. (Surprise!)
Manufacturing and Cleaning of Clothing
For centuries wool was spun into thread at home and woven into cloth on the family loom by women slaves, under the supervision of the mistress. This custom was continued throughout the Republic by some of Rome's proudest families. Even Augustus wore homemade clothes.
By the end of the Republic, home weaving was no longer common. Slaves still worked the farms for wool but fine quality clothes could be bought in shops. Some articles of clothing came from the loom ready to wear, but most garments required some sewing. Tunics were made of two pieces of cloth sewed together. Togas had to be measured, cut, and sewed to fit. Even a coarse paenula was not woven in one piece. Some ready-made garments, perhaps of cheap quality, were sold in towns during the empire. In fact ready-to-wear clothes was a big business in trade.
Romans had no steel sewing needles. They used large needles made of bone or bronze. Their thread was coarse and heavy. With such needles and thread, stitches were long and fine sewing difficult.
Even with the large number of slaves in the familia urbana, soiled garments were not usually cleaned at home. Woolens garments especially white ones, required professional handling, and were sent by all who could afford it to fullers to be washed and pressed, bleached or redyed. Shops of fullers and dyers have been found at Pompeii with their equipment in place. Cleaning must have been expensive, but necessary, for the heavy white garments had to look fresh, as well as be elegantly draped and worn.