Roman Costume

The ancient city of Rome, sometimes known as the eternal city, is awash in history. The foundation of modern civilization, culture, and fashion is their culture. Greek attire serves as the foundation for most of Roman fashion. In the middle of the first millennium BC, they were also affected by the Egyptians, but subsequently they created the Roman costume, their own distinctive clothing style. The Romans used their costume to express their class, social rank, age, gender, and line of work in addition to serving as a means of covering their bodies. They aimed to portray everyone around them as well as their standing in society to the rest of the world. The colour, style, and adornments varied according to the wearer’s status within the Empire. Later on, these clothes evolved into enticing clothes for lovers of contemporary fashion. While weaving techniques improved throughout time, the fundamental design of costume didn’t change.

Togas and tunics were the two fundamental styles of costume among the ancient Romans. Togas were formal outdoor attire, whereas tunics were more casual indoor attire. Both were made of spun wool. The tunic was cosy for moving around and working inside. The tunic was typically white in hue, undyed, and unadorned. To set themselves apart from the slaves, however, the upper class donned tunics with some ornamentation. The Greek style was used to create togas. It served as a symbol of citizenship in Rome and was a significant costume. Even if he resided in Italy or Rome, no foreigner was permitted to wear a toga. The toga served as both men’s and women’s official attire in ancient Rome. Later, the style shifted, and only male Romans wore togas.

Historical Background

One of the most recognisable costume traditions in history was created by the ancient Romans by adapting earlier clothing customs. The Etruscans, who established a sophisticated society in Italy hundreds of years before the Romans rose to power, and the Greeks had the most influences on Roman costume. The Romans’ appreciation of draped costume was a trait they learned from these two cultures. The Romans, however, were also highly impacted by the local populations they subjugated during the course of their empire. They inherited a garment similar to current pants from the Gauls, who resided in modern-day France, and were able to employ silk and valuable stones because of their trade with the Far East.

Roman attire, however, had two distinct sides. From the period of the formation of the Roman Republic in 509 b.c.e. through the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 c.e., the prominent garments remained mostly unchanged, demonstrating the stability of theco tradition. However, there were significant differences in the clothing’s construction and decoration. Clothes fashioned of coarse wool in the early years were gradually replaced with luxurious, imported silk (27 b.c.e.–476 c.e.). Early restrictions on the kind of stripes, or clavi, that could be worn on men’s tunics, or shirts, and togas, a long cloak, gradually waned, and men began to wear costume with complicated patterns.

Roman society was also incredibly divided, with a small number of extremely wealthy individuals and a sizable population of the impoverished. Rich Roman males simply did not leave the house without a toga covering a tunica. Respectable ladies also wore an official ensemble that included a long garment called a stola that was frequently layered under a cloak called a palla. Men participated in public ceremonies wearing togas, from the lowest social strata to royalty. The poor could not always afford to wear togas or stolas, but they were required to do so on special occasions. However, even the most impoverished Roman citizen was separated from slaves or barbarians (the designation Romans gave to foreigners), who were forbidden from donning Roman garb like the toga.

Male Costume

Men wore tunics both inside the house and outside. The style of tunic, which resembled a long t-shirt, varied depending on the class. Commoners, shepherds, and slaves all wore coarse tunics that were typically dark in colour and constructed of coarse fabric. Wool or linen tunics with a white tint were worn by the Patricians. The tunic known as the augusticlavia was worn by judges, the tunica laticlavia by senators, and shorter tunics by members of the armed forces. They wore a white wool coat called a toga over the tunic on important occasions. It was draped around the torso and had a square or rectangular shape. The toga served as a sign of a person’s social standing. Senators’ and consuls’ togas had purple edges. Emperors wore togas that were all purple. During a time of mourning, black ones were worn. The Romans did not wear trousers, but they did use what is known as a gallic brace while riding or going on hunts. For warmth, the soldiers also wore it.

Female Costume

Women’s clothes were extremely basic and lacked fineness, richness, and elegance. They lacked the social status-indicating differences in clothes that males wore. The stolas, which were only worn by married ladies, were the only thing that set them apart. They relied more on jewellery and hairstyles to make up for this. Additionally, Roman ladies wore a tunic, which was typically knee-length. They covered it with a stola, a long dress with a belt around the waist that reached all the way to the ankles. All married women were permitted to wear the stola, which was often white, grey, or brown in colour. When they left the house, they covered their heads with its edge and their shoulders with a shawl known as a pallium. Every Roman woman who went out in public was expected to cover her head. Togas were once seen as appropriate attire for both men and women. Togas were only worn by men throughout the Republican era. Roman prostitutes, on the other hand, paradoxically donned togas to signify their lesser rank in society.


Ancient people also used a cloak called a lacena. Due to the practicality of the garment, it was first worn by soldiers, then by individuals of lower class, and eventually by members of the upper classes as well. It was worn to shield the togas from rain and dust. It was usually made of wool, had openings at the sides, and was fastened on the shoulder with a buckle or brooch. Later, males discovered the cloaks to be more comfortable, so they began wearing them without a toga underneath. Dark cloaks were worn by the poor; bright colours were reserved for happy occasions; and white cloaks were thought to be appropriate for formal occasions.


Roman attire is still considered to be the pinnacle of its culture. It continues to be regarded as one of the finest cultural centres in the world and maintains its majesty. Their outfits offer a window into both their national culture and aesthetic principles. Many of the costumes we wear today are improvements from the past. They are a contemporary invention of those eager to reimagine their history.

The vestments, or priestly attire, worn by members of the Roman Catholic Church still display variations on ancient Roman costume. The richest Romans left behind most of the information we have on Roman costume. The numerous statues and paintings that have survived, as well as the numerous works of literature from the era, all highlight the costumes of those wealthy Romans. While it is conceivable that less wealthy Romans wore similar but much lower-quality apparel, it’s also possible that there were other articles of costume that have just been lost to history.

Updated on: 20-Dec-2022


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