Background: Romans paid special attention to their clothing and wealthy Romans followed fashion trends of the time. The clothes were designed and marked in a manner that depicted the social status of the man wearing them. Common citizens wore unmarked clothes but those holding political or administrative positions had their clothes marked to show their standing in society. Male citizens of Rome usually wore a distinctive garment called ‘toga’. Married Women wore a different garment called ‘stole’, although they once wore ‘toga’ as well before the practice was abandoned. Unmarried girls wore tunics only.
Fabrics and Materials: Romans used different types of fabrics and materials for manufacturing clothes. The most commonly used fabric was wool. Wool was considered comfortable and sturdy by Romans and it also provided them with much needed respite against cold weather. Almost all Roman families spun their own woolen fabric in their houses under the supervision of lady of the house. While ordinary women performed the duty of spinning themselves, rich women used their slaves for the job.
Romans also imported silk from China and cotton from India for manufacturing clothes. Silk was used by wealthy Romans and was expensive and rare. Romans also used leather for manufacturing footwear, coats and other articles of clothing. They normally used pig and sheepskin leather for the purpose.
Men’s Clothing: Roman men and women both wore the loose garment called tunics. Male citizens also wore togas over tunics when they ventured out of their homes for business and socializing. Toga was a cloth, roughly six meters long, that was wrapped around the body over a tunic. Togas were made of wool and tunics of linen. Only Roman citizens were allowed to wear togas and after 2nd century BC, Roman women were stopped from wearing togas.
Influential and politically elevated individuals had their togas and tunics marked accordingly. There were many types of togas worn by men of different age groups and social standing. Some togas were of bright color and were even embroidered but the basic design was the same. One such variety was ‘toga pulla’ that Roman men wore when mourning the death of a dear one. It was completely black in color.
Women’s Clothing: Roman women wore tunics and a special garment called ‘stola’. Roman women wore togas till 2nd century BC, after which they were not allowed to wear it anymore. While at home both men and women wore tunics, married women donned a more formal stola when going out or receiving guests at home. Roman girls however, wore tunics alone with varying length depending upon their usage. Stola was made of linen and was heavily pleated.
Many women wore a shawl called ‘palla’ over the stola to keep them warm. They also wore decorations like ‘brooches’ over their clothes and even used ornaments to go with their clothes for more formal occasions. Women belonging to wealthy families also wore garments made from silk and other expensive imported fabrics.
Slaves: Unlike their masters, Roman slaves wore very modest clothing. Their clothing depended upon their role and task they performed. Menial slaves were given basic clothing like loin cloth and cloaks to wear. However, educated and skilled slaves were provided with better clothing.
The best clothed slaves were perhaps the house slaves, who benefitted from their proximity to their masters and were provided higher quality fabric for their clothes. Roman slaves, regardless of their role and task, were not allowed to wear togas, a garment reserved for free living Roman citizens only.
Footwear: Romans mostly wore footwear made of leather. There were two types of footwear worn by Romans. Calceus, a sandal with open toe and strapped to foot and Soleae, a full shoe with a close toe were the two main varieties. The color and style also depicted the social standing of a person. Senators or patricians wore red colored shoes.