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Exploring the Ancient Past

Roman Men's Clothing

By Natasha Sheldon

A Roman man’s clothes signified his rank and office. Tunics, shoes-even the colour of clothes  made social statements

Every item of male clothing made a statement about a man’s position in society. Even if a man did not wear his toga, the colour, design and materials that formed his garments told the onlooker something about his place in society.

 

The Roman Toga.

 

The toga was the most obvious way of identifying a roman citizen as it was a garment forbidden to foreigners and slaves. An uncomfortable, dignified garment, it became usual only to wear it on ceremonial and formal occasions.

Traditionally, the toga was worn alone but it became more usual to wear it with an undertunic.

 

The Roman Tunic.

 

The tunic was the standard garment for all classes of Roman men. It was worn as a base garment or on its own.

 Its design was basic. Two knee length pieces of cloth were sewn to leave openings for the neck and arms. The garment was fastened with a belt or cingulum at the waist. This could be used to adjust the length of the garment.

Manual workers used the cingulum to hitch their tunics above the knee to allow a greater freedom of movement. Their tunics were usually also cheap and plain- wool being usual

 

The tunic was the only item of clothing a slave could wear. Often, this made them indistinguishable from working men of the lower class,( although slaves from rich household could often be more richly dressed than the free poor).

 

 The more leisured the classes wore their tunics longer- usually to the knee. These tunics were also made of silk or linen and often decorated with embroidery.

 

As with women’s clothes, fashionable male tunics became fancier in the Imperial period. Julius Caesar reputedly introduced the wearing of fringed sleeves. By the second century AD, tunics with sleeves had become the norm after being initially shunned as decadent and effeminate garments that were against austere roman ideals.

 

The Significance of Decor.

 

Decor was not merely ornamental. It was used to make a statement not only about wealth or class of the wearer but also any public office he held. This was done by the use of a strip or boderer known as a clavis. Members of the equestrian order wore a special tunic known as the tunica angusticlavia- a tunic with a narrow purple stripe running from shoulder to hem. Senators wore the tunica laticlavia, a similar plain white tunic with a broader purple stripe.

 

Ordinary citizens could not wear tunics with these vertical stripes. And the only person who could wear an exclusively purple tunic was the emperor.

 

Outdoor Wear for Roman Men.

 

Outdoor wear was fairly standard. In bad weather, most people would wear a pallium, a basic woollen cloak. Travellers favoured the more practical paenula, a long sleeveless woollen cloak like a poncho.

 

Those in the army had a special kind of cloak, the lacerna. Made of dark coloured wool, it replaced the impractical toga as a kind of dress uniform as well as offering protection against the elements.

 

Roman Footwear.

 

It was usual to wear sandals known as soleae or sandalia indoors. The solea was a simple leather sole fastened by cords fixed to the instep. The oldest and simplest form of sandal was the carbatinia. Made of ox hide, it was fastened at the ankles and instep by thongs.

 

Outside the house, shoes were more substantial. Calcei completely covered the toes, protecting feet from the elements and the mire of Roman streets. Slaves often carried their master’s sandals for them when they were out visiting so they could change their calcei on reaching their destination.

 

Shoes, like tunics had a social significance. Slaves were not allowed to wear calcei which were also the only form of footwear allowed with the toga. The colour of footwear also imprtant. The wealthy wore brightly coloured shoes as they could afford the dyed leather. Traditionally, those of patrician status wore red shoes.

 

Sources

Gibbons (abridged and illustrated 1979). Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire  Bison Books.

Roman clothing part 1