Roman Women's Costume

The Domina dresses

As a practical matter, sewing Roman garments can be quite easy, as nearly all clothing worn in the classical world was not fitted. If you can imagine Roman clothing as a series of rectangles, you're well on your way.

Getting started on your own wardrobe will require that you have a few basic body measurements:

  • Waist
  • Measure around hips. Add 5" to this number.
  • Measure around thickest part of arm and add 5"
  • From shoulder to heel (for stola)
  • From shoulder to knee (for tunica)


Nec si qua Arabio lucet bombyce puella (... a girl who shines through her Arabian wild silk...)

Propertius II III XV

Most of the fabric worn by inhabitants in the classical world was of wool, with some linen imported from Egypt and, later in the Empire, silks or "serica" imported from far-off China. "Wild silk" garments, woven on the Greek Island of Cos were also mentioned. These were extremely light, transparent fabrics.

Material from modern fabric stores - even synthetic woolens and linens - are perfectly suitable for reproduction garments, but the material should fall in "dead" folds, therefore, cotton, while cheapest, is unsuitable.

Also, many reenactors make the mistake of constructing Roman garments out of white fabric, however, as we can see by the evidence extant in many Roman frescoes, Romans loved colour and used it extensively in their homes and in on their persons.

While we admire classic marble sculptures, we tend to forget that both sculptures and buildings were brightly painted when on display. So we have an almost unlimited palette of colours to choose from when making our garments.

Following are basic instructions to make a standard Roman tunica or stola:

  1. Decide the length of the tunica you will want (this requires your measurements: from shoulder to knee or shoulder to ankle). Double the length and add 5 inches for hemming and body thickness.
  2. Tunica Pattern
    Acquire fabric in this length (in wool or synthetic blend). If making tunica interior, or undergarment, this should be white or off-white, otherwise, choose your favourite bright colour!). If you want a long-sleeved tunica or dalmatica, look for fabric that is at least 60" wide.
  3. Long-sleeved tunica or dalmatica Cut fabric into two rectangles, allowing 2 - 2" inches seam allowance for hemming top and bottom. If fabric is woolen and does not ravel, consider leaving the bottom unhemmed, as it looks much more natural.
    Stola pattern
  4. Determine width of your tunica by using your hip measurements plus 5" to allow for body thickness. Example: 40" plus 5" = 45". This will be the width of the back rectangle. Add another 4" to this amount for the front rectangle to allow for a nice, V-neck draped neckline.
  5. Turn the fabric right sides together and sew up to the sides to within 5" of your arm measurements.
  6. Add decorative tape or edging to hem and neckline. Make sleeves by sewing from edge of each side of the tunica, leaving sufficient room for your head to go through, or sew on decorative buttons every 3" or so.
  7. Belt at the waist or just under the bustline, adjust the folds of the fabric.

Palla or Shawl

Draping the Palla
The palla is a simple rectangle, about 60" wide and between 118" and 140" in length. Hem or fringe the edges, wrap around as shown.