Tunics and Togas

Men's Tunics

Roman fashions did not change much over the centuries, but they did vary regionally. In general, children wore smaller versions of adult clothing.

The toga was the formal garment of a male citizen, originally worn alone but later donned draped over a tunic. It was an expensive, fine piece of fabric of heavy white wool. It required frequent cleaning. It was roughly semi-circular, approximately 18 feet wide and 7 feet deep. It was draped in a complicated manner over a body. Several emperors had to issue decrees ordering its use on public occasions.

The oldest representations of togas date toward the later republic and show the toga exigua, a short, simple version of the garment. Toward the end of the republic, the design became more complex, incorporating the sinus (drapes falling from the left shoulder to the right thigh, utilized as a pocket or brought up over the right shoulder as a sling) and the umbo (a projecting mass of folds in front of the body able to pulled up over the head to form a hood.)

Different types of togas were worn by people of different social rank:

  • Toga Praetexta: Characterized by a purple stripe, worn by curule magistrates as well as boys until the age of 15 or 16.
  • Toga Virilis: The plain toga of a typical citizen. Worn by boys after age 15 or 16.
  • Toga Picta: A crimson toga embroidered with gold, donned by victorious generals in triumphal processions and the emperors.
  • Toga Candida: A toga given a shiny, glossy look by rubbing it with chalk, worn by people running for public office.
  • Toga Pulla: Made of natural black wool and worn in funerals.

Senatorial togas had a large purple stripe (latus clavus). Equestrians wore a toga with a narrow purple stripe (clavus angustus).

The basic garment of a Roman male, however, was the short-sleeved tunic, worn tied around the waist with a belt. It was normally worn indoors, as well as by slaves and children. Long tunics with sleeves were considered effeminate. Extra tunics were worn in colder weather. Senators and equestrians wore tunics with broad and narrow purple stripes, respectively, running from soldier to hip on both sides. Tunics worn by charioteers were dyed the color of their faction.

The dalmatic (dalmatica) was originally a short-sleeved or sleeveless tunic, but by the empire it had long sleeves. It was made of wool, linen, or silk, and worn by people in high position and later as an ecclesiastical garment.

Some calvarymen and soldiers wore trousers, but in general it was thought that long woolen trousers (braca) were uncouth, worn by barbarians outside the empire.

Capes and cloaks are also known to exist, made from either wool or leather, sometimes with hoods, such as the palla, lacerna, paenula, caracallus, cucullus, sagnum, and byrrus.

Beards were fashionable in early Rome, but did not become popular again until the time of Hadrian. There were many barbers.

Women's Tunics

Women originally wore togas like the men, but later this practice was confined to prostitutes and women of ill repute. Therefore, women wore tunics. Married women wore a stola over the tunic, a long, full dress gathered up by a high belt with a colored border around the neck. It could also gathered at the shoulder with a brooch, and was considered the main outergarment of a Roman woman.

Wealthy women wore clothes of rich colors and fine materials, such as muslin and silks. Some areas also saw women wearing close fitting bonnets and hair nets. Women also wore a palla, a long shawl made of woolen goods for outdoor wear.

As fair as their hair goes, women could do anything! Hair could be dyed golden red or black. the hairdresser could skillfully use a curling iron for ringlets and crude scissors. She could also use oils and tonics to hurry growth and add both softness and luster. In the late 1st century and early 2nd century high-piled hairstyles of curls and plaits became popular. By the mid 2nd century, less elaborate plaits and waives were adapted. Hair was usually styled at home by slaves. Dyes were used, and blond hair was fashionable. Black hair wigs were imported from India and blond ones from Germany.

In terms of makeup, a woman's face powder was a mixture of powdered chalk and white lead. Rouge for cheeks and lips was acher or the lees of wine. Eyebrows and eyelashes were blackened with ashes or powdered antimony, and teeth glistened with enamel. A lady chose her jewels, a diadem of precious stones for the hair, earrings, at least one necklace, rings for her fingers, bracelets for her wrists, and circlets for her ankles.

A woman was typically accompanied by two slaves, one with a parasol.


Various types of leather shoes and boots were worn, from heavy hobnailed varieties to light sandals and slippers. A carlatina was a sandal made from one piece of leather with a soft sole and openwork upper fastened by a lace. A soccus has a sole without hobnails and a separate leather upper. A calceus was a hobnailed shoe secured by laces. A solea was a simple sandal with a thong between the toes and a hobnailed sole. A caliga, worn by soldiers, was a heavy sandal with a hobnailed sole and separate leather upper fastened by thongs (the emperor Caligula's name means little boots). Shoes could also be made of wood.

Women typically wore sandals similar to those of men, but they were of softer, finer leather. Winter shoes were often cork-soled. Sometimes the soles were thickened to provide the illusion of height. Women did not wear stockings, but rather strips of woolen cloth wrapped around their legs if needed.

These comments were contributed by...

Patrick Potter