Ancient Rome: Boys' Clothing


Figure 1.--This Roman tombstone was found at Asmara along the western Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. It dates to the ?? century. It shows a Roman family, the parents and two children. They seem to be wearing children's tunic and adult togas and are thus surely Roman citizens. Image courtesy of the Fergusson Image Collection.

The Romans did have specialized clothing for boys. Very detailed information is available on Roman clothing. Information is available from paintings, statues and written documents. Rome during its early monarchy, republican, and imperial eras lasting nearly 1,000 years basically maintained the same clothing styles. Most clothes were made out of wool or linen, as was the case in Greece. Imported fabrics such as cotton and silk were very expensive. In cold climates fur and felt were also used. Most garments were made up of large uncut pieces of cloth and they were folded and pinned with "fivulate" or they were tied with belts. Garments requiring elaborate sewing were rare, as most needles were made of bone and therefore intricate sewing was difficult. Clothes were mainly the natural colors of their fibers, but some clothes were bleached white or dyed various shades.

Chronology

We have no yet found detailed chronological information on Roman children's clothing. We do not in fact know if there were any major changes over the nearly one melinium over which the Roman Republic and Empire persisted. As far as we can tell, there was little change in the basic clothes worn by Roman boys over time. This initial observation, however, needs to be confirmed. The Roman Republic and Empire endured for about an millenium. Surely there were some shifts, but in ancient times fashion trends changed much slower than is the case today. It was common, in fact, for styles to persist over centuries. We have found changes in women's styles, but men and boys' styles seem to have persisted over very long periods. we do not know enough about the topic to be able to deliniate any changes in the basic tunic and toga garments.

Girls' Garments

Both boys and girls wore simple white tunics. The only major difference in those tunics was that the boys' tunics had a crimsom border and the girls wore plain white tunics. Girls belted their tunics at the waist. The belts were commonlwoven outof wool. Girls when they appeared in public away from home might wear an outer, longer tunic which might reach down to the ground. Women in the Republican era might wear togas, but this went out of style. The only women wearing togas in the Imperial era were prositiutes. Women seem to be wearing colorful dress-like grments. While available sources tend to describe girls wearing belted tunics, we note some period imagery showing girls wearing dresses like their mothers rather than simple tunics.

Boys' Garments

The historical record on Rome is more complete than for many other ancient civilizations. We have some basic information on the garments worn by Roman boys.

Headwear

On the headstone here the children are not shown wearing any head gear and in general, indoors or out, boys and girls in historical illustrations seem not to be depicted wearing hoods and caps. Roman adults only wore hats at official ceremonies and not in their day to day living.

Tunic

The tunic (tunica) was the most basic Roman garment of clothing was the tunic. It was the standard dress in Rome. The basic tunic for boys was just a scaled down version of their father's tunic. For low status individuals such as children and slaves, the tunic might be their basic clothing. W believe that boys wore unbelted tunics, but this needs to be confirmed. The tunic Roman Boys wore was shorter than adult tunics. Boys wore tunics at knee level. It was white, with a crimson border. Boys from important families might wear tunics with a purple border, but the great proportion of boys wore tunics with crimsom borders. We note an unidentified Roman boy in Egypt during the 3rd century AD who seems to be wearing a tunic, in this case with purple trim. When a Roman boy became an adult at 16 years of age (some sources suggest boys may have done this at ages as young as 14 years) he was entitled to put away the boys' tunic with the crimsom border. They then wore a plain white tunic or toga like other Roman men. There was commonly done at their coming-of-age ceremony (usually celebrated on the feast of the Liberalia, March 17). For the ceremony boys commobly donned the toga virilis.

Toga Praerexta

One source says that Roman children also wore a garment called the Toga Praerexta. This was white material on which there was braid on the neck and cuff. [Gur, p. 20, 29, and 32.] Other sources maintain that this was an adult garment. As best we can determine, the Toga Praerexta was worn by boys on special occassions, perhaps over often over a striped tunic. In practice, however, because of the cost, only boys from affluent families could afford one. This apper to be the togas we see children wearing in some sculptures depicting important families in formal occassions. Illustrations in some books show the braid to be light brown in color. We are not sure at this time how accurate this depiction is.

Toga

Once a boy became a man, he put aside his childish clothes, and wore an all-white tunic. A boy became a citizen at age 16 or 17. The year was selected by choosing the date which came closest to March 17th. Coming of age, becoming a citizen, was quite a celebration. Boys at about 17 years of age would take part in a ceremony in which they were given the adult toga called Toga Virilis. This was often white and the braid symbolising childhood was missing. After putting on his new toga, the boy's proud father would adjust it. The day ended with a dinner party, given by the father, in honor of the new Roman citizen. We do note images of children wearing what look like togas, but this appaers to have been children of important officials in formal occassions. It was not what they regularly wore.

Common Items

There were items that both boys and girls wore. I am not sure at this time if there differences in these items concerning the ones for boys and girls.

Cloak

Cloaks and other over garments were worn in inclemate or cold weather. Italy is of course located in the Mediterranean and the climate is generally warm, especially in the south of the peninsula. There is of course a winter which can be quite cold especially in the north. In additions Romans lived outside of Italy. Thus cold weather clothing was needed. One of the primary garments was the cloak which I believe was worn by men, women, and children. Here I do not yet know if there was any stylistic differences for the cloaks worn by men, women, and children. A variety of cloaks are mentioned in the written record, but it is not entire clear what the characteristics of some of these cloks were. Children wore these cloaks were over teir tunics, the cloaks did not replace the tunics. The cloaks unlike the tunics might be brightly colored.

Footwear

Roman children and adults wore shoes and sandles. Children's outdoor footwear was the 'Calceus.' They were made out of soft leather and were in different colours for males. Females wore the same type of outdoor shoe but it was always white in color. The footwear worn indoors by children was the Sandalia. This was a made in the home out of soft leather and leather straps. [Macdonald, pp. 8-9.] The children here in the tombstone look to be barefoot (figure 1). We suspectthat many children went barefoot much of the time. Many modern illustrations of Roman life commonly show the adult and children weaing sandals. Often footwear is depicted as brown and the straps fit over the feet and appear to be fastened around the ankle. Roman soldiers in northern postings would wear their sandals with stockings.

Bulla

Freeborn Roman children wore a special locket around their neck, given to them at birth, called a bulla. It contained an amulet as a protection against evil and was worn on a chain, cord, or strap. Girls wore their bulla until the eve of their wedding day, when their bulla was set aside with other childhood things, like her toys. Boys wore their bulla until they day they became a citizen. Boys bullas were put aside and carefully saved. A boy's bulla could be wore by the owner again, if he won special honors. For example, if he became a successful general, and won the honor of triumph, he would wear his bulla in ceremonial parades, to protect him from the evil jealously of men or gods.

Clothing Technology


Hair Styles

Children's hair is often depicted at as short for boys and much longer for girls.On the Amasra headstone the girl's hair is long and pleated. The boy's is much shorter. There was a ceremony to celebrate the first time a child's hair was cut. There was also a ceremony when a youth shaved for the first time. Beards were not worn in Roman times except in the reign of Emperor Hadrianus when this became fashionable and after the fourth Century A.D wering beards went out of fashion. [Macdonald, pp. 8-9.]

Sources

Asamra Roman Headstones, photographed by William Fergusson.

Fergusson, William, E-mail message, August 14, 2003.

Gur, O. Selcuk. Daily Life in Ancient Times (Pub. Kuyucu Matbaacilik Ltd.).

Macdonald, Fiona. Ancient Rome (Pub Miles Kelly, U.K, 2002).






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Created: August 14, 2003
Last updated: 3:46 PM 10/17/2008