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Dress of the Ancient Romans

c.1820s — Eastern Seaboard of the United States


The most ancient dress was the toga, which consisted of a woolen cloth (round at the bottom but open at the top down to the girdle.) and without sleeves. It seems that the form of the toga was different at different periods in all probability, it was as early as the time of the kings, merely a square piece of coarse woolen cloth. The wealthy distinguished themselves by causing the toga to be made large and of the finest and best materials.

In the early days of the republic, the toga was worn by women, but at a later period they wore a robe called the stola, which was ornamented with a broad border or fringe. Old men and senators were clad in white. Women and young men wore purple. On certain occasions magistrates and priests wore a toga with an embroidered purple border. In a triumph, Generals wore an embroidered toga.

Beneath the toga, the Romans afterwards wore a garment called the tunic. It was a white woolen vest, which reached to the knees before and was a little longer behind. At first it was worn without sleeves, but afterwards sleeves were used with fringe at the hands. Generals wore an embroidered tunic called tunica palmata or tunica jovis. The poor people were often clad in the tunic alone, as their circumstances prevented them from purchasing the toga.

Young women wore a tunic of linen, but linen was not introduced from Egypt until the time of the Emperors. The tunic of the women was longer than that of the men, and it also had sleeves. It reached to the feet and concealed the whole person.

They also had a kind of mantle called Lena, a kind of great coat which had a hood to it. It was open before and fastened with a with a clasp or buckles, and called Lacerna. The Romans wore no stockings (or pantalloons). They wrapped pieces of cloth about their legs. They had different sorts of shoes—one resembling the modern shoe, and was tied. It was called Calceus. Sandals or slippers scarcely covered the sole of the foot. The Senators had four latchets, the plebeians one.  Men’s shoes were black, some red. Women wore red, scarlet, or purple, but white was the prevailing color. Poor people had wooden shoes.

The Romans had no covering for the head. They threw the lappet of their gown over the head. On a journey, they wore a round cap or a broad brimmed hat.

Women curled their hair and ornamented it in different ways. The Roman general wore a high embroidered cap of leather. His cloak was scarlet, and was called chlamys, sometimes bordered with purple.

The mantle of the Greeks was called Peplum. Some authors says that it was not closed like the Roman toga. Sometimes it was fastened on one shoulder, at others on both. The Greek’s mode of dress was adopted by the Romans. The Greeks had the cloak called Chlamys or paludamentum. The capes of their garments were sometimes scalloped or festooned or ornamented with fringes or coribes. Woolen cloth was first used, then linen brought from Egypt.

Roman young men wore a purple gown until they were 17 years old. They then put on a white one. Young women also wore purple.

Roman soldier. Shield of wood covered with leather, sometimes round, sometimes oblong.

A helmet of brass or iron coming down from the shoulders, the face uncovered, adorned with plumes of feathers of various colours.

The Coat of Mail made of leather covered with plates of iron in the form of scales or rings, twisted with each other like chains.

Greaves for the legs, and a kind of shoe called the Calliga, thick set with nails.

The Roman horsemen had neither saddles nor stirrups. The toga was first worn by women, but afterwards they wore a different robe called the Stola with a border or fringe.



Source: Anne Laura Clarke Collection, Folder 1, Historic Northampton, Northampton MA, Courtesy of Granville Ganter.