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Roman Everyday Tunics
Hello, everyone.

I don't know if there is a definitive answer to this, or if what we know would just be an educated guess, but I wonder if anyone has any thoughts.

Let's take a Roman senator, for example. We know that his status is marked out by a white tunic with broad purple stripes running down from the shoulders to the bottom hem. Now, would a senator wear this style of tunic every day? I know that in the evenings he would probably wear a more casual, and colourful, dining tunic/synthesis, but for the rest of the day, would he always wear a white tunic with purple stripes? Also, do you suppose he would have a number of identical white tunics with purple stripes, or just one at a time? Would he wear a different white and purple tunic everyday, or just wear the same one continuously until it became dirty/damaged and required him to get a new one.

Presumably the poor would only have one tunic, but with senators/equestrians I would have thought they'd have more, but would they really all be the same (white with purple stripes)? When on 'holiday' for example, in their villas in the south, do you think they'd have a different tunic then? Or an off white one for travelling that wouldn't show up the dust.

Would noble-born children have one tunic that they'd wear until they grew out of it, or would they have a different one for different days of the week? I am so used to wearing a different outfit everyday that I struggle to get my head round the concept of wearing the same thing day in, day out.

Also, would noble women have more variety in the colour of their clothing, or would they too be restricted by the same rules that men were.

And finally, what would they have kept their tunics in? Would they have had wardrobes, or would they all have been folded into a chest? Would the rich have slaves who were specifically tailors?

Apologies if these are silly questions, and I realise it is quite broad and generic (a Republican senator's wardrobe would doubtless be different to a senator of the Tetrarchy, for example - or would it?) but the more I think about it the more I wonder.

Many thanks

David Hobday
David Hobday
Make believe you're rich. You eat dinner and end up spilling some food on your nice clean white shirt. Or make believe its summer and you did something that made you sweat a lot. Do you change the shirt or wait till the end of the week before having a servant wash it?

If you are super rich, scion of a consular family, with land holding net worth exceeding HS 1 million, with numerous homes, villas, scores, if not hundreds, even thousands of family owned slaves, able to spend almost millions of sesterces on furniture, jewelry, art work, special wine, exotic foods, why would a few extra tunics be unreasonable? According to Graham Sumner, tunics could be pretty expensive, but not that expensive that the rich, let alone the middle classes, even the poor, couldn't afford numerous tunics of varying quality and serviceability.
You should consider that the production of cloth and clothing is a common skill in the ancient world and beyond and most ordinary women(and girls) would have produced this for their familys, buying cloth and clothing is perhaps something likely limited to the better off, though some things are sought after for their particular qualities..... on cleanliness every roman town of any size has a bathhouse, even forts in the most distant parts of the Empire....

" The women of the household would be responsible for keeping the family clothed.
Most clothes would be made at home - even the Emperor Augustus is known for having his clothes made for him by his female relatives and it was regarded as a womanly occupation, carrying no social stigma, to spin and weave the cloth oneself" Lindsay Alliason-Jones "Women in Roman Britain".

"And the four bare walls stand on the seashore. a wreck a skeleton a monument of that instability and vicissitude to which all things human are subject. Not a dwelling within sight, and the farm labourer, and curious traveller, are the only persons that ever visit the scene where once so many thousands were congregated." T.Lewin 1867
The white Tunica or Toga with the purple stripe might have been a mandatory status symbol and dress code for a roman senator in public. And he should have been rich enough to own more than one. How his casual clothes at home looked like? Who knows. Probably better quality (e.g a finer wool or even cotton imported from India).

Since Augustus sons of senators could wear the broad purple stripe. Before Augustus just the smaller purple stripe of the equites until they actually became a senator themselves.
Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas
There were plenty of fulleries in Roman towns and cities, so people would have had no problem getting their clothes laundered. Plain white wool would be easier to wash, using lye as a bleaching agent, but paintings from Pompeii show ordinary people dressed in a wide range of colours, from yellow and red through to dark midnight blue.

This picture actually shows a scene in a fullery - the figure on the right wears a white tunic with reddish clavi, so clearly these were not restricted to the aristocracy even in the mid-1st C AD.

The traditional heavy white wool toga, worn with the white tunic and purple clavi, was probably worn only on formal occasions by the imperial era - a bit like the formal business suit and tie today. By later centuries it had slimmed down, with a lot of the bulk packed into a pleated band across the chest, and was probably worn even less frequently - a bit like black tie dinner dress today, perhaps?

In less formal surroundings, the rich would have worn whatever they liked. In later centuries embroidery and woven decorations became more common, as did more expensive cloth - linen, cotton or silk. Images of the Roman nobility from the 4th century often show very lavish multicoloured garments. Cloaks - sometimes also patterned - are far more common than togas as well.

As for storage - Roman clothing didn't need hanging, so folding the clothes in chests would probably have been usual. One Roman poet - Martial, I think, or Juvenal - just used to throw his cloak over a chair when he went to bed.
Nathan Ross
Thank you, all. These are all fantastic answers. Big Grin

It's good to hear that there was a little more variety in dress than I'd initially thought!
David Hobday

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