1st Century BCE – 1st Century CE

This handout is for the middle to upperclass Roman citizen during the late 1st ce BCE – 1st ce CE. Clothes were defined as “women’s” and “men’s” and are categorized as such, but wear what you want. This is a working document. Addendums will be added as I learn more.


Materials & Fabric
Underdress (theoretical pattern)
Gap-Sleeved Tunic (Tunica mulbris)

Materials Needed

Fabric (wool, linen, cotton…) 2-4 yards
Thread & Needle (needed for the gap-sleeve tunic)
Sewing machine (optional)
Straight Pins 
Safety Pins (needed for the gap-sleeve tunic)
Measuring Tape
Chalk line (Optional – good for making straight lines

In Addition:
Flat fabric belt, rope, or ribbon (1/4” wide – I find this width to produce the best results for both comfort and drape – I also see this in images) & an additional fabric belt up to (1” wide-ish) if making the stola (the stola is belted twice)

Fabric Types

Was the main fabric used for Roman clothing 
It had religious, social, and spiritual significance.
It was thought to provide protection from the evil eye or accidentally seeing an omen (for women)
The stola, palla, and toga, with perhaps a rare exception, were made from wool.

Sources (Pliny the Elder) speaks of its use during this time 
Priestess of the Cult of Isis were said to be “linen clad” suggesting possible religious associations.

although known in Ancient Egypt, Babylon, and the Steppes was rare in Rome. 

Although it was known at this time, sources doubt and debate if it was ever worn this early, it would have been very expensive. If it was used, it is likely it would have been used as trim (e.g. clavi).

Choosing the Right-For-You Fabric

Wool will be the most expensive fabric, to have a nice drape, and a more period look, a wool gauze or very light weight will be needed. 

Comes in a variety of price ranges, European linen is going to be more expensive but have a better look.
This is great for all weather, but especially for hot weather.

Cotton also ranges in price but can be in the much more affordable range.
For “women’s garb” a light weight (voile) with extra or an under slip will give a very elegant look.

Silk is not ideal if you are warm weather sensitive as it does not breath and is a warm fabric.

*Non-Period Substitutions (without prints): jersey fabric, flannel, bamboo/bamboo blend fabric, bed sheets, curtains, anything really but do be mindful of the material as some can be very flammable and/or hot.

Fabric Colors

Wool retains dyes well so those garments would be brighter in color
Items made from wool (even if you don’t make them from wool) were the stola and palla.

As linens did not take dyes as well and would require frequent upkeep (i.e. rich people) they would have likely been in the pastel range. Sources have suggested pastels for women’s clothing but that does not appear to be the rule. There is evidence that suggests women wore purples, along with a range of other colors. 

Special Colors
Dark colors (dark grays and blacks) were worn by those in mourning.

White was a sign of purity, was worn by brides, religious occasions, and was the color of the toga and the senatorial tunic (not to be confused with un-dyed fabric).

Yellow was associated with the wedding veil (not palla), this is more relevant to male garb and veils.

Scarlets and purples were likely worn mostly by the upper class due to their expense, however there were forgeries.

(see the color charts below)

Color Charts

Dulcia’s Roman Closet

Purpura (below) was made from a very expensive dye. Fabric dyed purpura showed affluence and status due to its expense.

U.Name.MeDerivative work: TeKaBe, CC BY-SA 4.0
<https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 

Patterns & Instructions

Underdress (Theoretical Design)

This is theoretical construction, it has been suggested by some scholars that this was not worn during this time period, or at least not under the gap-sleeve tunic. This pattern is for those who wish to wear something under the gap-sleeved-tunic.

Off-white, natural

Light weight linen or cotton (you can use silk but keep in mind it doesn’t breath), bed sheets… use what you can afford.

Amount of fabric
2 yards-ish yards 

this will be more of a fitted garment to reduce bulk
this will not show under the gap-sleeve tunic and thus will have to have narrow shoulder bands

Underdress: Method I

1. Layout the full length of fabric (shoulder to ankle x2) and fold in half lengthwise.
2. Cut a curve in at the shoulders (this shouldn’t show under the gap-sleeved tunic).
3. Cut a hole for the head, role and sew the neckline
4. Sew the sides from the underarm to the knee to allow for movement.

Underdress: Method II

1. Layout two pieces of fabric (length from neck to about the ankle)
2. Cut a curve in at the shoulders (this shouldn’t show under the gap-sleeved tunic), you can fold the fabric in half to make sure the curve is the same on each side.
3. Sew the shoulders closed
4. Sew the sides from the underarm to the knee to allow for movement.

Gap-Sleeved Tunic

This garment’s appearance is made possible by the connecting the front and back in intervals across the top of the garment. 
When those connections are pleated and the garment is belted, they make a natural “gap” in the “sleeves” of the tunic
These connections were likely rosettes or fabric gathered and possible covered by a gold cap. See the next page.
The gap-sleeve tunic could be worn alone. The stola, if worn, was worn over the gap-sleeved tunic
It was belted under the bust.
It is unclear if it was adorned with any sort of trim. 
It was likely made out of linen or a light wool.

The gap-sleeve tunic went out of fashion in the late 1st century CE along with the stola. 
It is the decedent of the Ionic Chiton worn by the Greeks.

Fabric Type
Linen, cotton, silk, wool
Light weight fabric you can use more of as you won’t have a lot of bulk
Heavy weight fabric you may want to use less of to reduce the bulk
Medium weight linen will give a nice drape and not create excess bulk

Rosettes “Sleeves”
Rosettes are the connecting points that create the gap-sleeves. Directions and a link to a video tutorial are further on in this handout.

Could be a variety of colors depending on material (as stated previously) and affluence.

A light weight wool will be your most period option
Linen is a great choice if economically feasible
Cotton can be a more affordable option
Bed sheets, curtains… (whatever you can afford, best to avoid prints)
Fabric Amount
2-4 yards of fabric depending on your size (see below)

Length: Measure from the top of your shoulder to your foot, this allows extra for seam allowance and belting
*Factor in how active you will be, you may want to have it a little shorter)

Width: fold the fabric and half and have it reach from wrist to wrist across your body (the width [sleeves] will be shorter when belted) 

If you can’t find fabric wide enough (fits your height), try Method II.

Here is a worksheet that may also assist you:

Gap-Sleeved Tunic Fabric Comparison

The Gap-Sleeved Tunic Construction: Method I

Creating the Body
1. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise bringing the right side to the left (with the salvage on the top and bottom)
2. Stopping about 5-ish inches short of the cut end (this overage is the drape/neckline in front and will vary by personal preference)
3. This results in one side being longer than the other.
4. You’ll want to play around with this to see how it fits (see how to make adjustments on the next page).
5. The amount of drape is personal preference, you can go with a little or a little deeper (images/Statues show a little drape, these are usually of empresses and goddesses and are not be the most reliable sources).

Creating the Neckline
1. First pin the folded corner with a safety pin
2. Then bring together the open sides and connect them with a safety pin.
3. When straightened out you will see the front drape.

Creating the Sleeves
1. Fold the fabric in half again, safety pin to safety pin.
2. Use a safety pin to connect the fabric at the shoulder points on each side by starting at the folded side and measuring inward about 8-10” (you’ll have to adjust this to match your drape preference and shoulder width – this will be addressed later).
3. Do this on each side.
4. Repeat in between the shoulder point and the edge point.

*If you measure anything, measure the width of the drape and the width between the points on the back. Regardless of how much fabric you have, this won’t change. The bigger the difference the lower the neckline will be.

Fitting the Gap Sleeve Tunic
1. Try the garment on (thus the use of safety pins)
2. Belt it under the bust area.
3. Lift your arms up to bring up the fabric on the sides.
4. Distribute the fabric evenly under the belt around your body.
5. Check to see if it is comfortable 
6. Your shoulder points shouldn’t slip off your shoulders nor be too close to your neck 
7. A good place is about half way between your neck and shoulder – if you wear a bra, where your bra straps sit.
8. Make any adjustments until the fit is right.
9. it should be straight across the back (no drape).
* This is why you don’t cut the fabric first.

1. Once you are happy with the fit, sew up the sides stoping about 7” from the top.
2. These are your arm holes, make sure they are just wide enough to be comfortable and allow for movement without tearing the fabric Or you can sew it all the way up and make a tube. I find there is less bulk doing it the above way.
3. Then replace the safety pins with rosettes.
* The directions for making the rosettes are after Method III.

The Gap-Sleeved Tunic Construction: Method II

Creating the Body
1. Cut two pieces (salvage on the sides) the length from the top of your shoulder to the top of your foot.

2. Remove roughly 4-6” inches of fabric from the side of ONE of the pieces. If you would like more of a drape cut more but start small and work up.

3. Role the edges of both pieces and finish using a straight stitch on all for sides.

4. Lay the two pieces on top of each other. 

5. Sew the two pieces together (straight stitch) starting at the bottom side
6. Stop roughly 7” from the top (this will vary by body type), this will leave an opening for the arms.

Fitting the Garmet
1. Connect the two pieces of fabric together at the top edges
2. Fold the fabric in half again safety pin to safety pin. (shown in Method I)
3. Use a safety pins to mark the shoulder points on each side about 10” out from the center Try the garment on 
4. Belt it under the chest/bust
5. Check to see if it is comfortable and the shoulder points look right
6. Make any adjustments until the fit is right.
7. It should be comfortable and your shoulder points shouldn’t slip off 
(a good place is about half way between your neck and shoulder).
8. Then replace the safety pins with rosettes.
* The directions for making the rosettes are after Method III.

Gap-Sleeved Tunic: Method III

1. Cut two pieces of fabric of equal size.
2. The amount of fabric should be from the top of your shoulders to the top of your feet. 
3. Role the top edges and finish the sides
4. Sew the two pieces together as seen in method I & II leaving space for the arm holes
5. Follow the previous directions for fitting the garment.
6. Then replace the safety pins with rosettes.
* The directions for making the rosettes are after Method III.

*To get the drape and the gap on the sleeves, gather more fabric from the back than the front when you make the rosettes (via Gaia Aurelia)
**Tutorial on making rosettes to follow.

The Gap-Sleeved Tunic: Making the “Sleeves”

Rosettes Video Tutorial at: https://youtu.be/j3L-7aLs3BA

1. Starting at on corner, bunch up about a half an inch (more for thinner fabric, less for thicker fabric) of both the front and the back of the fabric
2. From the underside of the fabric (the inside of the tunica), below where the fabric will be gathered, thread your needle through.
3. Wrap the thread around 2 times and go through the base in a different place. Do this about 3 – 5 times going in at different spots.
4. When you’ve finished, bring your needle down through to the underside, make a few little stitches on the underside and make a knot. Repeat at the other corner and shoulder points.
5. Continue to make the rosettes in each place making sure that they match up on each side of the tunica as you are gathering fabric
6. Three to four on each side seems sufficient but there are images of as many as seven.


The Sleeves: Rosettes or buttons? And why not fibula?

Although there is speculation, and they were likely used with the peplos, fibula just don’t give the same look, have the strength at that size, and they would likely rip finer fabric. Being that fabric was so expensive this seems an unlikely choice.

Buttons, which seem to be lacking in the archeological record, wouldn’t necessarily create the pleats that we see. This doesn’t discount their use, but how they would look and work is speculative. However, recently I came across little gold caps with a pin to fasten them, they wouldn’t hold the fabric but they would fit over some sort of gathering.

Rosettes, which don’t damage the fabric, are very strong connectors, and have some visual support, seem a likely choice in my opinion.

The method of gathering the fabric for the rosettes will cause a drape in the front center and gaps in the sleeves. (Additional images and info of rosettes can also be found page 78 of Roman Clothing and Fashion by Croom).

How to Wear the Gap Sleeve Tunic

Material: Rope, fabric, fabric belt 
Dimensions: Suggested width 1/4” & length 1.5x waste measurement

Belt it under the bust
Use a narrow tie, as described above, to make a small bow (or Hercules knot if you really want to go for it) off center of the middle
Distribute the fabric evenly around the body by arranging it under the belt. 
You can make little pleats quickly and evenly by pinching the fabric directly under the belt.
*See images above

Clavi was not used on the gap-sleeved tunica, other uses of trim is speculative.
The length of the arms and the number of rosettes will vary with width.

The Stola

The stola is a strap dress made of wool that reached to the top of the feet once belted. 
It was belted first at the waist and then under the bust
Only married women who were Roman citizens of good standing could wear the stola 
One source documents a band of color across the bottom seen on a statue is likely to show status
The stola was never worn alone, it was always worn over the gap-sleeved tunic.

Fabric Type
To reduce the bulk and create a period-like look, a light weight fabric is recommended, ideally a linen or wool gauze but any affordable light weight fabric will do.

Fabric Amount
1.5x your height x2 (so both the front and back pieces are each 1.5x your height) 

Making the Stola
Take two equal pieces (1.5x your height)
Hem edges 
Sew both sides together to make a tube.

Adding the Straps
Attach straps (these can be narrow bands) closer in the back and wider in the front.
*Optional: Add a narrow band (3”) of fabric to the bottom. 

Stola Straps (institia)
The images of the straps of the stola are rare and literature about them even more so. During this time period it doesn’t appear that they were attached at the shoulder but instead were straps. The width of the placement will give a greater “V” shape. There appears to be three types but construction is theoretical:
*Details to follow

Shoulder Strap Construction
A loop is made by folding over the fabric in the front and back on either side of the neck. A piece of fabric is then strung through both loops creating a strap.

The straps are made by cutting the fabric to create them (perhaps woven that way at the time).

Gather together some fabric in the front and secure it (fabric or metal?). Then bring the narrowed fabric up to the shoulder, do the same in the back and secure. 
Or attach a piece of matching fabric to the gathered fabric under the rectangular fixture.

Strap Placement Tip:
When you put it on, the back straps should sit on the shoulder blades, you don’t need a “V” in the back. The front straps can sit around your arm pits so that when you belt it and fold it in that excess will create a “V” in the front. As everyone’s body is different, you will have to play around with this to see what works best for you.

How to Wear the Stola

Material: Rope, fabric, fabric belt 
Dimensions: Suggested width 1/4” & length 1.5x waste measurement

The stola will be tied at the waist and the excess length pulled up over the belt and then it will be belted again under the bust. 
The “V” in the front can be created via belting (fold it over and tuck the excess in the belt and fold the front fabric over it) or by cutting the fabric. This is an essential part of the look of the garment.
The stola should go to the top of your toes once belted.
Distribute the fabric evenly around the body by arranging it under the belt. 

The Palla

The palla in this time period, was around 5 yards long and made of wool 
It covered the head and body as a sign of modesty 
There is some evidence to suggest this wasn’t always the case
also see: Augustus “value’s” campaign
The palla was likely always worn out of the house, especially by “respectable Roman women.” 
Images of working women wearing a palla are seen in some images from Pompeii, it is likely that version is shorter in length.
Images and references suggest that a band of color was on the bottom of the palla. This presumably is to show wealth when the stola is covered.

Fabric Amount
4-5 yards 

Fabric Type
a light to medium weight fabric is recommended, ideally linen or wool but any affordable fabric will do.

Band of contrasting color (Optional)

Making the Palla
Hem the edges 
Optional: add a strip of fabric to the bottom
Done (the hard part is wearing it)


A strap shoe, similar that is similar to a modern leather flip flop or the Japanese zori, was the likely shoe worn outside. 
However, examples from this time period are difficult to determine due to the length of the garments.
There are also house shoes and outdoor shoes. 


Later, post stola, we see strap sandals worn with split toe socks (a modern substitute would be the Japanese tabi sock). One such sock has survived from Egypt. 
An image of a woman from a few centuries later shows her wearing socks with the big toe separated under a flip flop style shoe. A similar style of sock from around this time from Egypt has been found.
The socks seen appear to be orangish in color


it has been suggested by some scholars that an underdress was not worn under the gap-sleeved tunic. Conversely, some have argued the opposite. The argument being that it would have been seen. 

A breastband called a strophium has been said to have been worn. This consists of 5 1/2 yards of fabric wrapped around the bust six or seven times (Croom p. 93).


I have written extensively about Roman women’s accessories. Different categories can be found on the front page.


Bair Brooks, E. (n.d.). Dulcia’s Roman Closet – Roman Clothing. DULCIA’S ROMAN CLOSET. Retrieved 2019, from https://sites.google.com/view/dulciasromancloset/roman-clothing?authuser=0

Cleland, L., Davies, G., & Llewellyn-Jones, L. (2012). Greek and Roman Dress from A to Z (The Ancient World from A to Z) (1st ed.). Routledge
Croom, A. (2002). Roman Clothing and Fashion (1st ed.). Amberley Publishing.

D’Ambrosio, A. (2001). Women and beauty in Pompeii. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Dean, J. (2015, February 23). Colours of the Romans. Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour. http://www.jennydean.co.uk/colours-of-the-romans/

Edmondson, J., & Keith, A. (2009). Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture (Phoenix Supplementary Volumes)(1st ed.). University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division.

Gardner, J. F. (1991). Women in Roman Law and Society (MIDLAND BOOK) (Reprint ed.). Indiana University Press.

Harlow, M., & Nosch, M. (2014). Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (Textile Research Series Book 19). Oxbow Books.

Olson, K. (2008). Dress and the Roman Woman: Self-Presentation and Society. Routledge.

Panoussi, V. (2019). Brides, Mourners, Bacchae: Women’s Rituals in Roman Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Sebesta, J., & Bonfante, L. (2001). The world of Roman costume (Wisconsin studies in classics). Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.

Scholz, B. (1992). Untersuchungen zur Tracht der Romischen Matrona (Studies on the Costume of the Roman Matrona). Böhlau Verlag.

The British Museum (https://www.britishmuseum.org)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (https://www.metmuseum.org)
Images (Paintings/Frescos/Statues)
Reconstructions & Experimentation