The Basics of Ancient Roman Clothing

Information on the basics of ancient Roman clothing

Ancient Roman clothing started out as homespun wool garments, but over time, garments were produced by craftspeople and wool was supplemented with linen, cotton, and silk. Romans wore shoes or walked barefoot. Articles of apparel were for more than just keeping warm in the Mediterranean climate. They identified social status. Accessories were important, too, some of them were functional, and even magical -- like the protective amulet is known as the bulla which boys gave up when they reached manhood, others decorative.

Facts About Greek and Roman Clothing

Ionian Chiton Illustration
Ionian Chiton Illustration. British Museum's "Guide to the Exhibition Illustrating Greek and Roman Life," (1908).

Roman clothing was essentially similar to Greek clothing, although Romans adopted or scorned Greek clothing with a purpose. Find out more about the basics underlying Roman, as well as Greek, clothing.

Roman Sandals and Other Footwear

Caliga. NYPL Digital Library

Red leather shoes? Must be an aristocrat. Black leather with moon shape decoration? Probably a senator. Hobnails on the sole? A soldier. Barefoot? Could be almost anyone, but a good guess would be an enslaved person.

A Quick Look at Clothing for Women

Galla Placidia
Image ID: 1642506 Galla Placidia imperatrice, regente d'Occident, 430. D'ap[res] l'ivorie de La Cathed[rale] de Monza. (430 A.D.). NYPL Digital Gallery

While Roman women once wore togas, during the Republic the mark of the respectable matron was the stola and when outside, the palla. A prostitute wasn't allowed to wear the stola. The stola was a very successful garment, lasting for many centuries.

Roman Underwear

Ancient Roman Women Exercising in Bikinis. Roman Mosaic From Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
Ancient Roman Women Exercising in Bikinis. Roman Mosaic From Villa Romana del Casale outside the town of Piazza Armerina, in Central Sicily. Mosaic may have been made in the 4th century A.D. by North African artists. CC Photo Flickr User liketearsintherain

Underwear wasn't mandatory, but if your privates were likely to be exposed, Roman modesty dictated covering.

Roman Cloaks and Outerwear

Roman Soldiers
Roman Soldiers; Standard-bearer; Horn-blower; Chieftain; Slinger; Lictor; General; Triumpher; Magistrate; Officer. (1882). NYPL Digital Library

Romans spent a lot of me outdoors, so they needed apparel that protected them from the elements. To this end, they wore a variety of capes, cloaks, and ponchos. It is hard to determine which is which from a monochrome relief sculpture or even from a colorful mosaic since they were so similar.


A Fullery
A Fullery. CC Argenberg at

Where would one be without the fuller? He cleaned the clothing, made the rough wool wearable against bare skin, chalked the candidate's robe so he could stand out from the crowd and paid a tax on urine for the needy Emperor Vespasian.


Plebeian Costume
Image ID: 817552 Roman plebeian dress. (1845-1847). NYPL Digital Gallery

The tunica or tunic was the basic garment, to be worn under more official garments and by the poor without topping. It could be belted and short or extend to the feet.


Woman Wearing the Palla
Woman Wearing the Palla. PD "A Companion to Latin Studies," edited by Sir John Edwin Sandys

The palla was a woman's garment; the male version was the pallium, which was considered Greek. The palla covered the respectable matron when she went outside. It is often described as a cloak.


Toga-clad Roman
Toga-clad Roman.

The toga was the Roman garment par excellence. It seems to have changed its size and shape over the millennia. Although mostly associated with men, women could wear it, as well.

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Gill, N.S. "The Basics of Ancient Roman Clothing." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). The Basics of Ancient Roman Clothing. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Basics of Ancient Roman Clothing." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).