RomanAncient Rome

The clothing of Roman women was simple in cut; styles changed little for centuries. The effect varied with the quality of material and the grace with which garments were worn. Romans used wool, linen, cotton and silk for clothing. The best native wools were produced in southern Italy, in Calabria and Apulia. The finest came from the neighborhood of Tarentum. Wool was imported because of the great demand for it. The finest linen came from Egypt and was soft and almost transparent. Cotton was not known in Europe until after the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. Silk came from China; early in the Empire it appeared in a mixture with linen. Garments of pure silk were not worn until much later, and were rare and expensive.

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Ordinarily a Roman matron was dressed in a subligaculum, an under tunic, and a stola, an outer tunic. The under tunic corresponded to a chemise or slip, although sometimes it had short sleeves. The stola usually had sleeves formed by the width of the garment over the shoulders. The early stola was made of two pieces of cloth seamed together over the shoulder and upper arm, with an opening at the neck for the head to slip through. A later form of stola was made of two pieces where the back and front were wide enough to cover the extended arms, but were not sewed together over the shoulder and upper arm. In this style, the open edges from the neck to the end of the sleeves were gathered for two or three inches at intervals. Opposite gathering were sewed together and the joining sometimes covered with buttons or fancy pins. A stola was too long for walking so the extra length was brought up and suspended with a belt. Women usually wore both tunics, even in the house.


Roman women often wore a scarf indoor and a palla outdoors. A palla was a large oblong shawl, usually woolen. There were many ways to put it on. Often one end was thrown over the left shoulder from behind, falling straight in front, and the rest was drawn around the back and brought forward over or under the right arm.


A young girl sometimes wore only one tunic in the house; outside, she usually wore both inner and outer tunic. A girl's outer tunic was long and belted. One form was so long that the top was folded over, front and back. It hanged below the waist at the length desired, with a belt holding it in place.


Women did not wear hats, but their hair was always carefully arranged. Styles of hair varied; at some periods they were elaborate. They liked to dye their hair golden-red to imitate the color of Greek women's hair. They also added false hair, which became a major commercial item. Wreaths of flowers or flowers and leaves, and coronets of pearls and other precious stones enhanced the natural or artificial beauty of the hair. The hairdresser was a female slave, who was skillful in arranging hair in a popular style, as well as in the use of dressings, oils, and tonics to make it soft and lustrous and to encourage its growth. Young girls usually wore her hair in a knot at the back of her neck. But some girls had curls or bangs that were straight or curled.


Woman's street shoes were like men's but made of finer and softer leather. Sometimes they were white or ornamented or dyed a bright color. Shoes for winter often had cork soles, and thick soles were occasionally worn to appear taller. House sandals were of any preferred color. Some were beautifully decorated with pearls.


Roman women were passionately fond of jewelry and great sums were spent on rings, brooches, pins, jeweled buttons, and coronets. From the earliest times, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and pendants were worn by all that could afford them. Some had precious stones but goldsmiths made beautiful and elaborate pieces without jewels.