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A Quick Look at Clothing for Roman Women

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Woman Wearing the Palla

Woman Wearing the Palla

PD "A Companion to Latin Studies," edited by Sir John Edwin Sandys

Wool was the original material of clothing for Roman women, but over time, items were made of linen, cotton, silk, and even a mixture of fibers, depending on the wealth of the family. They could be dyed, embroidered, and woven for individuality or style. They could also be pleated or draped, according to prevailing fashions. Vestiplica was the name of the type of servant who pressed and folded the clothing so it would drape properly. Jewelry could be added, either decoratively or functionally, like the brooches seen holding together the front and back of clothing for Roman women. Some articles of apparel in art appear to have buttons; others appear sewn. Fullers (fullones), notorious for their use of urine as a cleaning agent, would tailor, clean, and might lighten the clothing. Like Greek clothing, Roman clothing was woven on a loom to produce usually rectangular pieces of cloth, although there were some rounded or elliptical articles.

The basic clothing for Roman women consisted of the tunica interior, stola, and palla. This applied to respectable Roman matrons, not prostitutes or adulterers. Matrons could be defined as those with the right to wear the stola [Sebesta and Bonfante]. The stola was the equivalent of the Roman man's tunica; the palla, the equivalent of the man's toga; the tunica interior, an extra, short, under-garment. The foot-length stola had either short sleeves or was attached with pins called fibulae at the shoulders, over the sleeved tunica interior. On the stola was an instita. Traditionally, instita has been described as a border, possibly a replaceable band to protect the ground-grazing hem of the garment. In The World of Roman Costume, Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante argue that the instita should be understood as sewn-on straps at the shoulders. The stola was belted under the breast, with fabric bloused over the belt (normally, the belt is referred to as a girdle). The palla was an extremely versatile rectangle of woolen cloth worn to veil her head when the woman went outside. Matrona's hair was tied in woolen bands called vittae.

Women wore shoes and sandals, like the men's.

Sources:

  • A Companion to Latin Studies, edited by Sir John Edwin Sandys
  • The World of Roman Costume, by Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante

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