Fashion in Ancient Rome: Togas, Underwear, and Wedding Dresses

While learning about Ancient Rome, you may end up asking yourself a few questions:
What kinds of clothing did people wear back then? What purpose did the iconic toga actually serve?
And what did they use for underwear? In this post, we’ll answer these questions, and more, as we explore the Fashion Industry of Ancient Rome.

In Ancient Rome, what you wore clearly identified your social class: men, women, young people, and slaves wore completely different kinds of clothing!

The Toga

“Here are the Romans, rulers of the world wearing the toga.” – Virgil, Aeneid, I, 282

Undisputedly the most famous Ancient Roman outfit, the toga distinguished the average Roman citizen from their contemporaries.
The toga is essentially a mantle draped around the body. The length, consistency, and draping of the garment was always changing due to evolving fashion trends, but at its core remained the distinctive Roman look.

Here are some examples:

Toga Trabea: The white fabric with a purple edge symbolized the divine nature of the wearer. It usually adorned the statues of the gods and high members of society.

Toga Candida: The pure-white fabric in this toga was worn by whoever was running for office at the time, signifying the purity of his intention. The meaning behind this garment still exists today: this is where we get the term “candidate” from.

Toga Picta: This was the official toga of the Emperor. The purple garment was probably inspired by the clothing of the Etruscan priests. During the Republican time, from the 6th to the 1st century B.C., it was used to dress the statue of Jupiter in his temple on the Capitol Hill.
Emperor Augustus in particular was adamant about keeping the toga as a symbol of Roman civil rights and morality.
The poet Svetonio recorded an instance in the Roman Forum when Augustus, having seen a number of senators wearing dark mantels, angrily declared, “Here are the Romans, rulers of the world wearing the toga.”
From that point on, the Emperor made it mandatory for visitors to the Forum to only wear the toga!

Toga Manufacturing

As mentioned before, the toga is a wrap for the body, measuring a little longer than the average Ancient Roman and two times as large.

A large strip of fabric is wrapped around the right shoulder and arm, leaving just the hand free.
From there, the fabric goes up to the left shoulder around the back, with the remaining strip pulled out to the front and allowed to fall from the left arm.

The drape of the toga always had a moon shape.
Sometimes, to make it easier to move around, they put a belt around the hips, or cinctus gabinus.
The fabric used for the togas changed consistently from season to season: in summer people wore the toga rasa, a very light fabric; in winter, they wear the toga pexa, usually wool.

Women’s Fashion

In the beginning, roughly between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., women and men almost dressed exactly the same: a single toga could be used either by a husband or his wife.
As society evolved and fashion trends with it, women’s fashion started to change:
The texture of the fabric grew thinner, almost fitted to the wearer, and brighter colors started to appear.

Women’s Underwear

Ancient Roman women wore a light tunic right over the body called interior or subucula, which was a kind of ancient underskirt, with a type of underpants called subligar and a band called marmillare, to protect their breasts.

Women’s Dresses

The stola was a dress made of heavy fabric used to cover the long tunic women used as underwear.
The sleeveless garment featured many folds, ornamental shoulder pads, and a belt around the hips.
The stola eventually became the symbol of female virtue, since the dress completely covered up Roman women’s’ bodies under the heavy fabric.
When women went out, they used the stola to also cover their heads.
Men knew that offending women wearing the stola would lead to problems.
Meanwhile, prostitutes were required to wear the men’s mantel when outside, since they were banned from wearing the classical stola.
Inside the brothels prostitutes would wear a transparent stole. The average Roman woman on-the-go would also wear a palla, which was a large rectangular piece of fabric wrapped freely around the body, with many downward folds partially covering the actual dress called the tunic.

Wedding Dresses

Ancient Roman brides wore a white tunic called tunica recta, which covered the entire body down to their feet. The tunic was tied with a double-knot around the hips, with a belt called zona, a symbol of virginity.
The groom would be the only person allowed to untie it in a gesture called zonam solver at the beginning of the ceremony.
The bride’s head and face were completely covered by a red veil, flowers, and a crown of leaves, typically from a Crepe Myrtle bush, and her hair would be styled in a very distinct way, made up of six tresses called sex crines.

Children’s Clothing

Children’s clothes were not all that different from those worn by the adults.
They simply wore tunics, with or without a belt, made from the same kind of fabrics as used in adult garments: silk or linen in the summer, wool in the winter, all coming in different colors.
Teenagers, until they turned 17 years old, wore the toga pretext over the tunic, with a purple band along the lower edge of the garment.