Roman fashion was relatively unchanging and the clothes worn by men and women were of a similar type of design. The materials used in making clothes rather than the design and style of the basic toga and stola.
Roman Clothing Materials
The type of materials used to produce clothes worn by the Romans started with wool and leather which came from the the farms of Italy. As their contact with other cultures and different climates increased so did the types of materials that they used. Luxury materials were therefore imported. Fine linens from Egypt, cotton from India and silk from China. Silk was quite rare and extremely expensive. Clothes made of silk were a luxury which could only be afforded by the wealthiest Romans and this, the most delicate of all materials, was only worn by women. The clothing materials used by the Romans included the following:
- Cloth of gold
Different types of Roman Clothing Materials
Vestis was the generic word for "clothing." Facts and information about the types of different Roman Clothing Materials, together with the Roman words which described them are as follows:
Silk: Bombycina. The Latin for Silk-worms is bombyces. Metaxa was also a term to describe silk material. Serica was the term for Chinese silk. The Chinese were called the Seres by the Romans.
Cotton: Carbasus taken from the Hebrew word for Cotton
Heavy Linen and Cotton mix: Carbasina was a heavy, durable linen cotton cloth
Linen and Cotton: Carbasus lina was a linen and cotton mixture.
Linen: Lina was the Roman term for linen
Colored stripes on tunics: Clavus is the Roman name for the woven, vertical strips of reddish purple on the tunic extending from each shoulder to the hem of the garment
Cloth of Gold: Lamé (Cloth of gold) was "a spirally spun gold strip". An extremely expensive ornamental material in which metallic threads are interwoven with silk, wool, linen, or cotton
Wool: Lana the Latin word for Wool
Wool or Flax weave: Lodex was a specialty wool or flax weave from Laodicea
Felt: Piloi is the name derived from the Greek word for felt (pilos)
Damask: Polymita an intricate damask made in Alexandria
Gauze: Ralla a type of gauze weave
Woven Fabric: Spissa was a closely woven fabric
Fine Linen: Sindon was a fine linen from Egypt
Leather: Leather was the most commonly used material for making shoes, sandals and as protective clothing for soldiers such as the cuirass and weather proof outer clothes
Manufacture of Roman Clothing Materials - Woollen Clothes made in the Roman Republic
The manufacture of Roman Clothing Materials, and the types of material used, changed from the period of the Roman Republic to the period of the Roman Empire when different manufacturing techniques were 'acquired' from the different countries that the Romans conquered. During the period of the Roman Republic and the early years of the Roman Empire clothing was home made form the wool brought from the sheep on Roman farms. Women Slaves were designated the task of manufacturing clothes using wool which was first spun into thread and then woven into woollen cloth on a loom.
The Manufacture of Roman Clothing Materials - Luxury materials in the Roman Empire
The manufacture of Roman Clothing Materials changed as the Romans became more powerful and came into contact with other cultures. The finest Roman clothing materials were important from different countries in the Empire. Fine materials were purchased from the traders and sewn into garments by slaves. An example of materials used from the Empire was Linen which was obtained from Egypt. The materials used for making linen was easily accessible in Egypt. Linen was the most common material used for Egyptian clothing. Flax, the plant that produced the linen threads grew easily in the rich silt soil of the River Nile. The flax was then combed and spun. The types of linen produced ranged from a course sackcloth type of material to the finest, almost transparent linen.
Roman Clothing Materials - Ready-made Clothes
The Romans moved away from home-made clothing and ready-to-wear clothes became a big business. The Clothing trade flourished using materials from the Empire on the backs of Roman slaves. Fine quality clothes could be bought in shops. Trade centres such as those in Capua flourished and wealthy Romans made shopping trips to such places to buy expensive materials which had been imported from the Roman Empire. Some articles of clothing were sold ready to wear, but most Roamn clothes required some sewing.