Roman Costume Design


Early Romans more than likely wore few articles of clothing because of the hot climate of Italy and the effect of their high levels of physical exercise. Romans were largely lawmakers and agriculturists. Rather than creating their own inventions, they typically took over those of the people they conquered, then build upon what they learned. They also took other aspects of the societies they came across. This includes the Greeks, which is when they began paying more attention to beauty in architecture and clothing. Roman style clothing is very similar to Greek in design and concept. The main difference is that clothing is not pinned, but sewn closed on both sides. Garments feature few patters or decorations.

Romans, contrary to common misconceptions, were pretty practical, upright and uptight people. They believed in civil services, customs duties, and such technological advancements as interstate highways, they were also very ambitious and competitive. This was expressed in the military honors that the men strove to earn and the large amounts they spent on clothing, housing, and entertainment. It is expected that, because of such elaborate ideals, Roman wear was actually considerably more elaborate, dignified, and thus cumbersome then that of the Greeks. Because of the independence of Roman women due to men being away at war, women were very learned, clever, and actually inherited property. Laws were established to limit the amount of accessories women could ware on their person at a time, but they did not actually last that long. The family slaves were in charge of weaving and constructing garments for the family out of wool, linen, and silk (which was introduced after silk worms were brought from the East).

Men's Clothing

Male Roman clothing.

When at home, Roman men’s clothing included the Tunica (or Tunic), a simple T-shaped, woolen tunic that was shirt-like made of two pieces sewn together at the sides with short sleeves and a skirt that extended down to about the mid-thigh – two of these were often worn together. In cold weather, articles made of heavier wool would be worn as well. Early on, the subligaculum was worn under the tunic as a sort of trunk. These were dropped as the society advanced, as Romans began to look down on races and societies that wore trousers (or pants), often depicting their captives in art pieces as wearing pants, which they began to see as barbaric.[1]

The Toga was essentially a wool mantle, about eighteen feet long. The actual shape is of some debate. It is thought to be an extra long half-circle, with one straight edge, or a circle doubled over at some point forming two semi-circles with one smaller than the other. In sculptures and other art pieces, corners do not show in the draping, though hems of both straight and curved fashion are seen. It is unknown if the shape of the Toga is from the way it is draped or the way components may fit together. Tacks or fastenings are not noticed in depictions of Togas. It appears in early to mid Roman history and is the most commonly thought of article of clothing. It was worn by everyone in the Roman society, men, women, upper and lower class, in the city and country, and inside and outside. It wasn’t a permanent installment in Roman wear, though. Women discontinued wearing the Toga first, more then likely for the sake of novelty or because of its weight and complicated arrangement. Next to discard it was the lower class for the sake of convenience since it was a heavy and cumbersome article of clothing. As the Roman society became more easy-going, even the patrician men shed the Toga. It remained the costume of state with the upper-class and emperors even until the end of the Roman heyday. When the empire moved to Constantinople in 330, the toga fell to a more Greek dress, the pallium. It could not be worn by any foreigner, and was not duplicated in any other nation in material, color, or arrangement.[2]

It is agreed on by most Roman scholars on how to rap a toga. An end is placed on the left shoulder so the point just touches the ground. It is drawn around the back, under the right arm and over the shoulder, from where it is brought again over the left shoulder, the long end being draped over the left arm at the wrist. Ends would hang in plaits in the front and back. To tie the Toga, one would use a sinus, a long loop or bag would be pulled in front and hung over the drapery. For religious ceremonies or rain, the drapes in the back could be used as hoods.[3][4]

Other articles of clothing sometimes worn by Roman males include the Gallium, worn over the tunic, similar to the Greek chalmys. Clasped on right shoulder or fastened on breast with fibulae, cords, or rings. The Paludamenturn, which is the Gallium when worn over armor, bright red. Synthesis: “Gay-colored,” comfortable lounging-robe worn by men at banquets over the tunic. Cucullus: Brown woolen cloak with hood worn by the lower class.

Military Clothing

Roman military clothing.

The military also has different decorations for individuals to indicate achievements such as the first man to scale the wall of a city or saving a citizens life.

Armor: Roman Armor probably didn’t shine. Some pieces were chainmail; others were scale armor (metal plates 3 inches long and one inch wide sewn to leather or linen backing). Leather armor was also popular, which included a lining of metal and linen.

Women's Clothing

Female Roman clothing.

Clothing included the Stola, a female version of the tunic, which descended from the neck to the feet, long and full, and was fastened at the shoulder with pins. Some scholars believe a sort of flounce was added as a lower section because of the length in the back. Sleeves were pretty long, reaching to the wrists, or short. Underneath women wore a linen tunic and vest. Foreign women and girls were forbidden to wear the Stola. The Palla was a large, long (8 yard) drape/scarf that covered the entire body except the hands and face. Individuality showed through the way it was displayed and the arrangement of the garments folds. Vestal virgins (who kept the sacred fire burning at altars), wore white Pallas with a thick band (similar to a diadem) around the fore-head. While in processions or during sacrifices, the head and face would be covered with a veil or white. [5]

Hair Styles


Often worn in over-elaborate styles, especially by the woman of the house. Elaborate arrangements of curls in a variety of different styles were bedecked with jeweled pins and decorative coronets (kind of like a crown) to hold the hair in place. Female slaves were in charge of actually doing the hair. These slaves were very adept in using oils and tonics to keep the martens hair soft and lustrous. They also handled the cosmetics (powders and paints) which were a daily necessity for these women.

For men, distinct head dresses were used for different occasions and to distinguish ones position. When in mourning, men would grown their hair and beard out as a public display of their sorrow. Young children also would wear their hair long, but when boys came of age, it would be cut short.[6]



Romans made advancements on the footwear of the Greeks. Knowledge of construction and decoration is what sets apart Roman shoes from those of the Greeks. Both men and women wore boots, sandals, or shoes. Boots, called togati, were short with straps crossed over the instep, and were worn by both men and women in the earlier Roman days. Later on women adopted Greek sandals, especially when inside.

Color of footwear was another aspect of Roman clothing that dictated the status of its wearer.

  • Red: Consuls
  • Black with Silver Crescent: Senators
  • Wooden: Slaves
  • Black: Poorer Classes

Shoe decorations were made by piercing or cutting patterns into the leather. Nobility had precious stones inset into the leather, or shoes made of gold or silver all together.[7][8]


Roman mosaic of tragic and comic theatre masks, a common element in Roman and Greek theatre.

Jewelry early on was rather crude when compared (and even not compared) to Greek pieces. Later on, advancements were made. Jewelry included rings, brooches, pins, jeweled buttons, coronets, bracelets and necklaces. Pearls where highly prized as jewelry pieces as well. Women at one point began carrying glass and amber balls; glass to cool the hands in warm weather and amber, when heated, would act as a perfume. Men would wear a least one ring that they would use to apply seals to important documents.




In early times, Togas were made of white or natural colored wool. As time went on, the upper class began using silk. Plebeians could only afford wool, dyed to colors other than white (for they were prohibited to wear such a color). Color of a Toga denoted the class or office its wearer was in, or even the occasion for which it was being worn.

  • White: Candidate for public office. Had garments bleached (with fuller’s earth, a claylike earthy material used to decolorize and purify) and immaculate before being seen in public.
  • Black: Worn by those in mourning or not worn at all.
  • White with Purple Border: Priests and magistrates, called Toga-pretexta. Also worn by high ranking boys, with who a bulla (a small round box or amulet hung around the neck) was worn until 15, when they switched to the Toga pura (without the rim or border).
  • Purple and white stripes: Varied in thickness extending from the shoulder to hem, called trabea, worn by Knights.
  • Purple: Generals, especially on huge victories.



Roman society was divided into to levels, known as casts: patricians (the upper class people that first settled a city or town with the large tracts of land they were given), and the plebeians (the lower class people that were forced to sever the patricians). Because of these contrasting economic levels, there was naturally continuous conflict between the two classes involving government, land and costume.

Historical Timeline

Painted replica of the statue Augustus of Prima Porta, depicting the first emperor of Rome.
  • 509 BC – Roman Republic established
  • 281 BC – Last Greek threat to Roman Empire eliminated
  • 100s BC – Rome becomes dominant society throughout the Mediterranean Sea
  • 91-88 BC – Social War (Conflict over Roman citizenship)
  • Mid 1st Century BC – First Triumvirate (secret pact to take control of Republic, Julius Caesar involved)
  • 44 BC – Caesar assassinated
  • May 11, 330 – Constantinople established
  • 410 – Visigoths sack city of Rome itself
  • September 4, 476 – Last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, forced to abdicate (The end of rule of Rome in West)
  • 1000 AD – Eastern Empire at its height
  • 1095 AD – East calls for help from West, which responded with the Crusades
  • 1204 AD – Conquest of Constantinople, beginning of fragmentation of empire
  • May 29, 1453 – Eastern Empire ends after being conquered by Mehmed II



Pictorial References


Additional References


Maginnis, Tara, comp. "Acnient Rome Dress." The Costumer's Manifesto. 25 Sept. 2008 <>.