Women’s Fashion in the Roman World

Throughout time, clothing has morphed from a sole necessity of survival to a luxury of status. Fashion has defined individual groups of people and put a significant barrier between classes such as nobles and slaves. Several other groups can be ranked through what they wear and how they conduct themselves.

The Roman people loved their material possessions. In fact, there were several types of merchants that came from all over the known world to bring exotic things to the wealthy class. These exotic things could have been part of the cause for that significant barrier clearly observed between wealthy and deprived.


Roman toga diagram

Stolas and togas were mainly worn as the basic form of clothing for the Roman people. Depending on your status, you either added to or took away that basic form.


Ancient Times, Roman- Costumes of All Nations

Women, as well as men, used clothing as a marker of money and rank. Their class could be picked out just from looking at what they were wearing. “Widows were usually distinguished from wives, and the ‘mothers of the family’ from other matrons… Not only veils but also the other garments of women served as indicators of their status and social function” (Sebesta 46). Clothing, whether it was the dye used to color the cloth or how much layering was done, could change how the public saw individuals.

Puella Inguena, a Freeborn girl, would wear a toga praetexta and had braided hair tied with a vita, luna. A toga praetexta was also worn by freeborn boys and could have just been what brothers and sisters alike wore as day-to-day clothing. This kind of toga, as seen in this portrait of a child, was based from an “adult male’s but had a narrow, reddish purple woven border along one long edge” (Sebesta 46).



An adulteress or Adultera “was not permitted to wear the stola and vittae. Instead, according to custom, the woman divorced of promiscuity wore a plain toga. The symbolism behind the assumption of the toga would seem not to be that the woman had assumed the sexual freedom allowed males, but that she ahd lost her status and role as a sexually mature woman in Roman Society” (Sebesta 50).

Viduas (widow) possibly wore a ricinium, stola, and vittae. The ricinium was for everyday wear for women- the equal to a men’s toga. As time passed, the ricinium, now a dark colored material made out of wool, was used as a sign of mourning.


Sebesta, J. L. (2001). Symbolism of the Costume of the Roman Woman. In J. L. Sebesta, & L. Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume (pp. 46-53). Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.


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