Monday, September 17, 2012

What the Romans Wore

In order to really help your child fully appreciate Ancient Roman life (click link for resources on other Ancient Roman Topics), they need to have some understanding of what the Romans wore.  Of course different members of the society had different styles of dress.  If you were a slave you had a simple (and scratchy) tunic and even a slave tag that was probably worn like a pendant around the neck much like a dog tag.  These were bronze discs stating the master's name and location so a runaway slave would be returned to where he/she belonged.  If, you were a wealthy Roman Leader such as a consul or senate member you still wore a tunic but got to wrap a beautiful toga around yourself as well.  Make your child's first toga party something they can speak about freely and help them "dress up" for their Roman Feast.

Here you see Alice Acting the Goddess in her Purple Palla,
White Peplos (we'll dye it red before Halloween) and cream Tunic.

Colors were used in such a way that they wound up demonstrating status because common and poor people couldn't afford expensive dyes (More on Roman Dyes).  Their clothes were mainly white (and creams), greens, yellows, oranges and browns.  The richer you were, the brighter the dyes you could afford.  Therefore the wealthiest wore a special crimson red, yellow, indigo blue and purples .  Purple was reserved for royalty (the emperor was the ONLY person legally allowed to wear as much purple as he desired and his toga was entirely purple).  The very wealthy were also to wear small amounts of purple as well.  For example, senators could wear purple as a thick band around the edges of their togas.  Some boys from families of certain wealth and status could wear a very thin band of purple at the edges of their togas.  The dye came from shellfish and it was very hard to make which is why it was so expensive to use.  During the republic and early days of Empire, togas and pallas were made from wool so they would have been hot, itchy and uncomfortable in most Mediterranean weather, but it was expected of the wealthy for these items to be worn in public anyway.  As Rome expanded other fabrics became more readily available, so the women of the wealthy classes did eventually begin using some of these other fabrics for the Pallas and other garments.

Create a tunic, toga, palla, bulla and wreath:

For a Tunic, give your child an inexpensive t- shirt that is simply way too big, cut the neck out of it and tie it at the waist with a simple rope.  If you are skilled with a sewing machine, you could take it in a little around the body and simply make the "sheath" a little narrower if you wished. 

Girls wore their tunics to their ankles so if you really want to be accurate with your daughters the t-shirt idea probably won't work (maybe a long nightdress?).  However, sleeves were only holes in the upper corners of tunics so sewing two rectangles of fabric together leaving enough room for the head and arms is quick and easy if you have a machine (or use the t-shirt idea and don't make a big deal out of it).  If they were wealthy, married and wished to, women also wore a long dress called a stola over their tunics.  Unmarried and wealthy women could choose a peplos or chiton (more like Greek Women) if they wished and even many married women preferred these.  These two layers were also paired with a palla.  It was popular to choose very bright colors for a palla.  The fabric should be about 1 1/2 yards long at least. Throw it over over your shoulders and you have a palla!  (For More Info about Female Clothing)

Boys of wealth and status wore togas.  These are actually large half circles of fabric and often had a colored strip along the edge (for boys under 16 the color was purple).  In the beginning, the toga was wrapped around the waist once and then thrown over one shoulder over the tunic for wearing.  As the Empire grew the fashion of specifically how to wrap the toga changed and Toga wearing became increasingly more complex (For More Info about Male Clothing).  Boys not from wealthy families mostly just had their tunics and occasionally some form of shawl or cloak for warmth.  There was a somewhat wider variety of dress for Men however and what you wore depended a bit on what you did.  There were very particular cloaks for warriors quite different from the Togas worn by the patricians (political class) and cloaks used for warmth by other, lower classes.

Unlike what is often shown in the media, sandals that actually showed the feet were only worn indoors.  Many of the poor citizens had simple wooden clogs and members of the army had a special wrapped leather boot with nails in the bottoms (poking into the ground) to act as cleats.

Girls and boys were given a bulla at birth.  This was a little pouch (or wearable box) in which they kept amulets believed to help protect them from evil.  Many bullas were made of leather (or other animal skins), but the very wealthy had boxes made from precious metals.  To make your bulla, use a box for mints (or other small box) and attach it (with hot glue) to a string long enough to put over the child's head and wear like a messenger bag.  Now, spray paint the box with gold or silver spray paint.  After that dries, let your child decorate the box using colored permanent markers with a little design.  Then let your child fill it with a few precious items like a lucky penny, wishing stone or some other small token that means something to him/her.

For other types of dress, descriptions of footwear, hairstyles and jewelry you can also check out:

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