Clothing: Head Wear, Footwear, and Jewelry
Clothing: Head Wear, Footwear, and Jewelry
Covered Heads. Throughout much of the Republic, Roman women customarily covered their heads in public. In addition to using the palla to cover her head, a Roman matron had a variety of other small garments specifically for this purpose. Small mantles and kerchiefs were also typical head coverings, and wives of certain priests had special garments for this purpose. By the time of Augustus, however, we see in statuary women with their heads either covered or uncovered, and thus the practice of covering the head seems to have become a matter of personal choice.
Hair-Grooming. Details of the Romans’ personal grooming habits were often similar to those of the modern world. Men and women patronized barbers (tonsor) and hairdressers (ornatrix), and wealthy Romans even owned slaves trained in these occupations. Large imperial bath complexes sometimes offered these services, and many Roman men even had excess body hair removed by a professional at the baths. Dyeing hair was a common practice, and both men and women did it. But hair dye must have been far more harsh in antiquity without the benefit of scientific research. Ovid devotes an entire poem (Amores 1.14) to the damaged hair of his mistress, who used hair dyes so imprudently that her hair fell out.
Jewelry. Women wore cosmetics and jewelry, and changed their hairstyles to keep up with current fashions. During the Empire it was fashionable for women to wear elaborate hairpieces that added height to their stature. Statues from this period show us what Roman women looked like with such hairstyles. Jewelry for men consisted almost exclusively of finger rings, and anything more was considered effeminate. The typical man’s ring was a symbol of his citizen status, and only members of the upper classes could wear such a ring made of gold. Other men wore the citizen’s ring fashioned from iron. Women’s jewelry included earrings, finger rings, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, brooches, pendants, pins, and gems for the adornment of their hair. Gold was the precious metal of choice, and many examples of superbly worked gold jewelry from Roman antiquity have been discovered, though silver and bronze were also used to fashion jewelry. Metal was often engraved, and could also be set with precious stones or gems.
Footgear. The footgear Roman men and women wore reflected their social status as well as their occupations. Archaeological and artistic evidence from around the entire Roman world reveals that Romans used leather, wood, cork, felt, metal, and plant fibers to construct footgear. Many types of sandals, shoes, boots, and slippers were worn by the ancient Romans. Naturally, climate as well as local custom determined in part the type of footgear and the materials from which it was made. Socks, or other kinds of linings, are known to have existed from archaeological and literary evidence, though few examples have survived from antiquity.
Sandals, Shoes, and Boots. Both men and women wore sandals, soleae or sandalia, with various strap and thong arrangements for keeping the sole of the sandal attached to the foot. Sandals were typically worn only indoors, and they were not considered appropriately formal for appearing in public. A type of sandal called sculponae was favored in Germany and England. This slip-on sandal consisted of a high wooden sole with a leather strap to keep it in place. In the damp conditions of northern Europe sculponae probably lasted longer than sandals made entirely from leather. Sturdier shoes called calcei fully enclosed the foot, as opposed to the open sandals, and were the standard shoe appropriate for wear in public. Calcei, therefore, were worn with the toga and palla as part of the formal dress of Roman citizens. Peasants and farmers, and probably slaves who worked on farms, wore footgear called perones, which were either a simple boot or shoe made of leather. The appearance of such shoes is uncertain.
Caliga. Roman soldiers wore military boots called caligae (singular caligd). These boots were made from a single piece of leather and consisted of an innersole and a thicker hobnailed outer sole, as well as a network of straps over the ankle. The toes were left open. Caligae were the regulation footgear of all soldiers up to the rank of centurion, and were worn in all areas of the Empire through the first century C.E. By the second century C.E. soldiers in the northern provinces stopped wearing the caligae, probably in favor of boots that more fully covered the entire foot. Statues and paintings depicting generals, emperors, horsemen, and deities show these figures wearing high boots, often with elaborate decorations, although no examples of such boots have been found.
Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante, eds., The World of Roman Costume (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994).
Lilian M. Wilson, The Clothing of the Ancient Romans (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1938).