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Clothing in ancient Rome
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"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
Clothing in ancient Rome generally comprised a short-sleeved or sleeveless, knee-length tunic for men and boys, and a longer, usually sleeved tunic for women and girls. On formal occasions, adult male citizens could wear a woolen toga, draped over their tunic, and married citizen women wore a woolen mantle, known as a palla, over a stola, a simple, long-sleeved, voluminous garment that hung to midstep. Clothing, footwear and accoutrements identified gender, status, rank and social class, and thus offered a means of social control. This was probably most apparent in the segregation of seating tiers at public theatres, games and festivals, and in the distinctive, privileged official dress of magistrates, priesthoods and the military.
The toga was considered Rome's "national costume" but for day-to-day activities, most Romans preferred more casual, practical and comfortable clothing; the tunic, in various forms, was the basic garment for all classes, both sexes and most occupations. It was usually made of linen, and was augmented as necessary with underwear, or with various kinds of cold-or-wet weather wear, such as knee-breeches for men, and cloaks, coats and hats. In colder parts of the empire, full length trousers were worn. Most urban Romans wore shoes, slippers, boots or sandals of various types; in the countryside, some wore clogs.
Most clothing was simple in structure and basic form, and its production required minimal cutting and tailoring, but all was produced by hand and every process required skill, knowledge and time. Spinning and weaving were thought virtuous, frugal occupations for Roman women of all classes. Wealthy matrons, including Augustus' wife Livia, might show their traditionalist values by producing home-spun clothing, but most men and women who could afford it bought their clothing from specialist artisans. Relative to the overall basic cost of living, even simple clothing was expensive, and was recycled many times down the social scale.
Rome's governing elite produced laws designed to limit public displays of personal wealth and luxury. None were particularly successful, as the same wealthy elite had an appetite for luxurious and fashionable clothing. Exotic fabrics were available, at a price; silk damasks, translucent gauzes, cloth of gold, and intricate embroideries; and vivid, expensive dyes such as saffron yellow or Tyrian purple. Not all dyes were costly, however, and most Romans wore colourful clothing. Clean, bright clothing was a mark of respectability and status among all social classes. The fastenings and brooches used to secure garments such as cloaks provided further opportunities for personal embellishment and display.