The most common piece of clothing in Ancient Rome was the tunic: a short-sleeved or sleeveless knee-length shirt, worn by both men and women.
The only difference between the tunics of men and women was that a woman’s usually came with sleeves. Most clothing in Ancient Rome was simply made, and nearly always produced by hand.
Roman clothing was usually seamless and required minimal cutting and tailoring. Because of this, there were very few fitted pieces of clothing in Ancient Rome. Most were loose and free-flowing to allow for better movement.
But aside from tunics, Roman women also wore pieces of clothing called stolae. A stola was sort of like a tunic, but fitted the body differently.
Each stola was made from two pieces of rectangular cloth which were woven together and decorated with buttons. The garment was loose-fitting, and draped freely over the body of the wearer even more than the tunic did.
Over their stola, a woman would wear a cloak called a palla, which would be wrapped under and around the arms to make sure it didn’t fall off. If a woman had a palla, she was probably wealthy.
Most pieces of clothing in Ancient Rome were made of wool. Because sheep were a common farm animal, there was plenty of wool produced in Italy and the rest of Europe for the Romans to use.
However, the wealthier peoples’ clothes would sometimes be made from more exotic materials, such as linen (from Egypt,) silk (from China,) or cotton (from India.)
Aside from the material that a Roman citizen’s clothing was made of, you could also tell their social class by the kind of shoes they wore. First of all, while women wore closed shoes, men always wore sandals.
The poor people’s sandals were plain brown. The rich citizen’s sandals were red, and usually had an ornament (or jewel) attached to the back.
The senators (or government workers) of Ancient Rome wore brown sandals which black straps which curled up their legs to the middle of their calf, where a knot would be tied. Just like with their clothing, few Romans could afford colored footwear, and most just wore plain brown.
In general, Ancient Roman clothing was white or off-white, and didn’t have much color.
If a piece of clothing was colored, it was done to show off how wealthy the person who owned it was; for example, purple dye was so rare and expensive that it was seen as the Emperor’s color, and very few people outside his circle were allowed to wear it!
A formal piece of clothing, which only men could wear, was the toga. This is the most famous piece of clothing from all of Ancient Rome.
If you imagine somebody from the Roman Empire, this is probably what you see them wearing in your mind’s eye!
The toga was a piece of clothing worn at formal events, and followed the same rules of color as tunics and other garments from the time: i.e, purple togas were exclusively for generals and emperors.
Most Roman children wore a special amulet around their necks called a bulla, which they first received on the day they were born.
The bulla was a protective necklace intended to guard the child from evil, and was worn on a leather cord or chain.
While girls wore their bulla until the day they got married, boys only wore them until the day they became citizens. After this, a boy’s bulla would be put aside. Though most Roman men never wore their bulla after becoming a citizen, if a man won special honors, he would take it out and put it on again.
For example, if he became a senator or general of the army, he would wear his bulla in celebrations and parades.
Before a boy became a man, they would wear a knee-length tunic with a crimson border. On the day of their 16th or 17th birthday, they would become a legal citizen of Rome.
As part of their tradition, they would set aside their childhood clothes on this day and switch to all-white tunics instead. The day a boy became a citizen was an important occasion in ancient Rome (much like Sweet 16 birthdays are now!) and the day would always end with a dinner hosted by the father in honor of the new Roman citizen.