The Romans
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Mare Nostrum

Women's Fashion in Ancient Rome

by R.W.



Fashion has been known to make a statement in every culture and civilization throughout the centuries. From the Hellenistic Era to present day, fashion fads and statements evolved from similar backgrounds to make styles that seem new, but are really just "doctored-up" versions that can be traced back to the times of ancient Rome.

women at well


According to Friedlander, the women of ancient Rome wore a long tunic called a "stola." The stola, which went down to the feet of the wearer, often had a woolen mantle over it called a "palla"(47). The positioning of the tunic was complicated due to the many layers of the cloth used for the different styles of the garment. In most cases, the stola was worn as described: first, a long-sleeved tunic was put on, and over it, a shorter tunic with short sleeves.

woman with olive jar

A cloak fastened with a buckles on the right shoulder completed the outfit for wearing. The difference between the tunic of a man and a woman is that the tunic worn by a woman often had sleeves fastened with buckles. The over-garment was often sleeveless and a cloak would be worn over it.

As stated by Leffingwell, the favric of the tunic varied because of the limited amounts of "costly material" and the disadvantage of not being "climate adaptable" in cold weather (123). Due to these limits of options, the tunic was made mainly of wool (and even silk if the wearer was able to afford it). During cold weather, a heavy woolen cloak was worn over the tunic (because of the tunic's flimsy material). Lower class women usually wore simple wool tunics with holes for the heads and arms, held by a belt at the waist. On occasion, tunics were made out of cool linen for summerwear but because of linen's scarcity at the time, it was rarely ever worn at all.

Tunics were dyed in different colors, usually bright ones because Romans loved vibrant varieties of colors. McDaniel notes that the dyes used for multicolored tunics were made out of purple shellfish (with colors ranging from deep orange to a black purple). The dye was said to have left and odor that made the wearer "smell of money"(83). Full purple cloaks were rarely seen because generally, purple was only used for fringing,edging,trimming,braiding, and striping the clothing.


Showerman and the "Women's clothing and Hairstyles" websites compare hairstyles of today with those of Roman times.(95) For example, Roman women often dyed their hair, usually golden-red. Like modern women, they used false hairpieces to make their hair thicker or longer. Sometimes, Roman women wore their hair up, in carefully arranged styles held with jeweled hairpins. Sometimes they wore it down, curled in ringlets and spirals. Actually, until the middle of the first century, styles remained fairly simple.

musicians playing instruments


The ancient Roman woman wore varieties of accessories such as:

  • ornate necklaces
  • armlets
  • anklets
  • breast chains
  • brooches
  • and jeweled buttons

The list also includes ornamental hairpins, earrings, friendship rings, and even hairnets of solid gold! Jewelry, especially bronze and gold, was popular among upper-class Roman women.Accessories were highly decorated and expensive. Parasols and fans made of peacock feathers were featured as part of the appearance of the Roman woman.

Bridal Wear

Hicks (24-36) notes "that the tunic of the ancient Roman woman is similar to that of the bridal gown of today." For example, the Roman bride wore a straight decorated tunic with ribbons and jewelry. The tunic was woven in one piece, which had to be long enough to reach her feet. She also wore a belt tied around her waist in the "knot of Hercules" (Hercules was the guardian of wedded life).

In upper-class weddings, the bride wore a flame-colored veil over her bridal tunic. Some other wedding ceremonial tunics had pearls embroidered throughout the gown that is very similar to the gowns worn today. The veil that was used was topped with a wreath of flowers that the bride had to gather herself before the ceremony took place.


The fashion of ancient Rome continues to exist today throughout the modern designs of the Italians, French, and Americans. Many of the hairstyles of today are simple makeovers of actual styles worn by the women of ancient Rome. For example,the coiffure,or bun is still worn at casual as well as black tie affair ceremonies around the world. The fashion of ancient Rome has contributed many styles of hair,clothing, and accessories to our accessories to our modern-day wear.

Works Cited

  • Friedlander, Ludwig.Roman Life and Manners Vol.2. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968.
  • Hicks, Peter.The Romans. New York: Thomson Learning, 1994.
  • Leffingwell, Georgia.Social and Private Life. New York: AMS,1968.
  • McDaniel, Walton.Roman Private Life. New York: Cooper Square, 1963.
  • Showerman, Grant.Rome and the Romans. New York: Macmillan, 1931.
  • "Women's Clothing and Hairstyles." Online. 2 December 1999 < 1/things/romanlife/women.html>.

Rich East High School * Park Forest, IL 60466

This page was created by R.W. Last revised 3/9/00.

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