Ancient Greek and Roman Clothing

Learn more about ancient outfits

Relief from the Sebasteion depicting Nero and Agrippina, Aphrodisias Museum, Turkey
Carole Raddato/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Ancient Greeks and Romans were similar clothing, usually made at home. One of the principal occupations of women in ancient society was weaving. Women wove garments generally of wool or linen for their families. The very wealthy could also afford silk and cotton. Research suggests that fabrics were often brightly colored and decorated with elaborate designs.

A single square or rectangular piece of clothing could have multiple uses. It could be a garment, a blanket, or even a shroud. Infants and young children often went naked. Clothing for both women and men consisted of two main garments—a tunic (either a peplos or chiton) and a cloak (himation). Both women and men wore sandals, slippers, soft shoes, or boots, although at home they usually went barefoot.

Tunics, Togas, and Mantles

Roman togas were white woolen strips of cloth about six feet wide and 12 feet long. They were draped over the shoulders and body over a linen tunic. Children and commoners wore "natural" or off-white togas, while Roman senators wore brighter, whiter togas. Colored stripes on the toga designated particular occupations; for example, magistrates' togas had purple stripes and edging. Because they were so unwieldy, togas were mainly worn for leisure or formal events.

While togas had their place, most people needed more practical clothing on a daily basis. As a result, most ancient people wore a tunic, peplon in Rome, and chiton in Greece. The tunic was the basic garment. It could also be an undergarment. These tunics were made of a large rectangle of fabric. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

The peplos was simply a large rectangle of heavy fabric, usually wool, folded over along the upper edge so that the overfold (apoptygma) would reach to the waist. It was placed around the body and fastened at the shoulders with a pin or brooch. Openings for armholes were left on each side, and the open side of the garment was either left that way, or pinned or sewn to form a seam. The peplos might not be secured at the waist with a belt or girdle. The chiton was made of a much lighter material, usually imported linen. It was a very long and very wide rectangle of fabric sewn up at the sides, pinned or sewn at the shoulders, and usually girded around the waist. Often the chiton was wide enough to allow for sleeves that were fastened along the upper arms with pins or buttons. Both the peplos and chiton were floor-length garments that were usually long enough to be pulled over the belt, creating a pouch known as a kolpos. Under either garment, a woman might have worn a soft band, known as a strophion, around the mid-section of the body.

Over the tunic would go a mantle of some sort. This was the rectangular himation for the Greeks, and pallium or palla, for the Romans, draped over the left arm. Roman male citizens also wore a toga instead of the Greek himation. It was a large semicircle of cloth. A rectangular or semicircular cloak could also be worn pinned on the right shoulder or joined at the front of the body.

Cloaks and Outerwear

In inclement weather or for reasons of fashion, Romans would wear certain outer garments, mostly cloaks or capes pinned at the shoulder, fastened down the front or possibly pulled over the head. Wool was the most common material, but some could be leather. Shoes and sandals were ordinarily made of leather, although shoes might be wool felt.

Women's Garments

Greek Women also wore the peplos which was a square of cloth with the top third folded over and pinned at the shoulders. Roman women wore the ankle-length, pleated dress known as the stola, which could have long sleeves and fastened at the shoulder with the clasp known as a fibula. Such garments were worn over the tunics and under the palla. Prostitutes wore togas instead of the stola.