The most powerful of the ancient empires, the civilization that became the Roman Empire rose from humble origins as a city in central Italy. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire stretched from Spain in the west to present-day Syria in the east, and from Egypt in the south to Britain in the north.
The ancient Romans took the clothing traditions of the past and adapted them into one of the most distinctive costume traditions in all of history. The greatest influences on Roman fashion came from the Etruscans, who developed an advanced society in Italy hundreds of years before the Romans became powerful, and from the Greeks.
Early Romans did not wear pants. Both men and women wore beautiful, draped garments such as the toga or the stola, a long gown that hung nearly to the feet.
The casula was a versatile outer garment worn in Rome from about 200 B.C.E. and, in modified forms, is still in use throughout the world today.
The dalmatica was a Roman variation of one of the most common garments, the tunica, or shirt. Late in the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.) variations on the tunic grew more fanciful and elaborate.
Before the Romans developed their long-lasting rule on the Italian peninsula, several other groups of people organized towns and farms into small-scale societies. Yet even the most notable and longest lasting of these pre-Roman societies, known as the Etruscans, remains somewhat of a mystery to historians.
Feminalia were snugly fitting knee-length pants, or breeches. Though the name might suggest that they were worn by women, in fact they were worn most often by men.
Along with the stola, the palla was the most common piece of clothing worn by women in ancient Rome. It was a very simple garment, yet its simplicity allowed it to be used in a great many ways.
The stola was the staple garment of the married woman in ancient Rome. It was a long gown, generally sleeveless, that hung nearly to the feet.
A form of underwear worn by both men and women in ancient Rome, the subligaculum was one of the most basic garments. It was very similar to the perizoma, a tight-fitting pair of shirt pants, worn by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman society that inhabited the central part of present-day Italy, and the Etruscans in turn appear to have adapted the garment from examples worn by ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
If you had to choose one garment to represent the costume traditions of ancient Rome, that garment would be the toga. It can be seen on statues and paintings of Roman men from the earliest founding of the city of Rome in 753 B.C.E.
Through the course of Roman history, from the early years of ancient Rome in 753 B.C.E. to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E., there were two garments that were essential to the male wardrobe: the tunica and the toga.
The costume traditions of the ancient Romans were, in general, fairly simple. Romans did not tend to wear hats or decorative headdresses throughout the long history of their civilization, which lasted from the founding of the city of Rome in 753 B.C.E.
When it came to the wearing of facial hair, Roman men went through several shifts in style over the long history of their civilization. From the founding of Rome in 753 B.C.E.
One thing is made very clear by the statues, coins, and paintings that provide our evidence about the hairstyles worn in ancient Rome: women changed their hairstyles very often. Though there is no one typical Roman hairstyle, it is obvious that Roman women often curled and braided their hair.
By the time of the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.), both men and women had largely given up the customs of simplicity and frugality that characterized early Rome. One of the most popular ways for people to ornament themselves was through hair dyes.
During the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.) wealthy members of Roman society developed a rich and fashionable lifestyle, which included much attention to appearance and ornamentation. Both women and men used any means available to improve their looks and decorate their bodies.
Roman attitudes toward the grooming and decoration of their bodies changed dramatically over the course of the long history of their civilization. From the serious and simple habits of the eighth-century-B.C.E.
Both rich and poor Roman parents hung a bulla around their newborn child's neck to protect him or her from misfortune or injury. A bulla could be as simple as a knotted string of cheap leather or as elaborate as a finely made chain necklace holding a golden locket containing a charm thought to have protective qualities.
Although Roman clothing styles in general are known for their simplicity and lack of ornament, the widespread use of jewelry provided Roman women with a rare opportunity for display. (The only form of jewelry worn by men was the signet ring, often a gold ring with a decorative stone at its center.) Fashion historians believe that the Romans inherited their love of jewelry from the Etruscans who lived in Italy before the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C.E.
Roman philosopher and playwright Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.E.) once wrote, "A woman without paint is like food without salt." Like the Greeks before them, Roman women, and some men, used a variety of preparations to improve their appearance.
The most important piece of jewelry for men during the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.) was a signet ring, also called a seal ring. Signet rings were first made out of iron but later came to be made more commonly of gold, especially for government officials and honored military men.
Along with the inhabitants of India, the ancient Romans were one of the first peoples in recorded history to develop a wide range of footwear. The ancient Mesopotamians (inhabitants of the region centered in present-day Iraq), Egyptians, and Greeks either went barefoot or used simple sandals as their dominant form of footwear.
The calceus was the first shoe in history to look like modern dress shoes. A special type of calceus had been worn by Etruscan kings, who ruled parts of the Italian peninsula before the Romans.
The cothurnus was a distinctive boot typically worn by hunters, horsemen, and men of authority and power in ancient Rome. Made of leather, the boot was pulled on to the foot and laced all the way to the top.
At their simplest crepidae were a kind of slipper. Made of a single piece of soft leather that was cut two inches larger than the foot size, it was wrapped up the side of the foot and held in place with a leather thong.
Gallicae is a general name given to a style of closed leather boot worn by the men of ancient Rome. The Romans named the boots gallicae because they had first encountered them when they were fighting the northern tribes of Gaul, present-day France, after 100 B.C.E.
The solea, or sandal, was the most common indoor shoe of the ancient Romans. It was a very simple shoe, consisting of a flat sole held to the foot with a simple strap across the instep, similar to today's thongs or flip-flops.