June 2019 – August 2020
This was my first foray into ancient dress and there are some wonderful resources out there. Two sites that I found myself returning to again and again are Romana Sum (the Intro to Roman Clothing article in particular), and Dulcia’s Roman Closet.
My outfit is from the late Republic period. The simple costume includes a blue linen tunica muliebris (more commonly called tube tunica), worn with a belt tied right under the bust. This type of tunica is also known as a gap-sleeved tunica, because the front and back is held together with buttons or rosettes, leaving gaps along the top edge. Mine is sleeveless so only two metal buttons attach the fabric at the shoulders.
As you might imagine, the sewing process was a piece of cake. A few long, straight, flat felled seams in hanky linen, and the garment is complete. But making the tunica wearable, as seen in the artwork, proved to be more of a challenge. What holds up the belt (cingulum) at bust level? And how does one achieve any blousing over this belt?
Initially, I cut the tunica with a few extra inches, to allow for some blousing at bust level. But I quickly discovered that the belt won’t stay in place at all – it slips down to waist level. (Apparently a point of debate among Roman costume experts, is whether anything is holding up the belt). So I added a few well-placed thread loops. These thread loops are very subtle – it seemed like a reasonable solution. Still, this didn’t solve the blousing mystery. Because if you place belt loops low enough to create blousing, and tie the belt at underbust, then you once again have a belt that slips down. After some pondering, I decided to skip the blousing. Most of the images I referenced didn’t seem to show it anyway. To complete the tunica, I added a couple of lingerie strap guards, hidden right behind the button, and it was done.
The palla is worn with the tunica. It is draped over the shoulder or head, and can be wrapped around the lady in a variety of ways. This takes some practice. The suggested maximum length for a palla, 5 yards long, was more than I could realistically wrangle. I was quite happy to leave mine at 4 yards. Shown here is my pink cotton batiste palla. I made a second one in white.
Accessories for the outfit include a palm-leaf fan, and flip flops from Target. My hair is done in a simple braided bun, with a white linen band worn on the head. Blue and white jewelry sets were assembled from glass beads, gold beads, and lapis stones. I had just enough lapis for two matching bracelets. The jewelry sets, like the pallas, are all mix-and-match. Yet despite my efforts to coordinate all the pieces, it is Aaron’s Roman belt that is shown in these photos. I accidentally left the dark blue linen belt, made specifically for this outfit, at home.