Clothing (November 2017)

The clothes make the man!

Inside this issue: a Roman fashion show, bulla posters, Quintilian, the words “palliative” and “protection,” and more!

Email us to suggest a topic for a future issue! 


Main Feature: Two New Lesson Plans
Each issue will feature two lesson or activity ideas: one related to the Latin language, and one related to Classical Studies (Greek or Roman culture, mythology, or history).

1. CULTURE LESSON: A Roman Fashion Show

Introduction: This lesson will introduce students to eight articles of Roman clothing via a worksheet and fashion show.

: If you could walk down a street in ancient Rome, you could learn something about the strangers all around you simply by noticing what each one wore. For example, only citizens could wear the toga, and only married women could wear the stola. For the toga in particular, there were several varieties which each signified a different station or occasion. A brief explanation of the symbolic colors of togas can be found in our June 2017 Colors issue. The Romans were known as the gens togata or “toga-wearing people.” The toga represented the ideals of shared power of the Roman Republic and the height of civilization.  Cicero once said “cedant arma togae” (“May weapons yield to the toga”), with the toga being a metaphor for peaceful resolution of problems.  Because it was difficult to do manual labor or fight a battle while wearing a toga, the toga represented the peaceful occupation for an upper-class Roman man.  In some ways, it can be compared to the business suit that many “white collar” workers wear today, although the toga was reserved for special occasions and was mainly worn in public while doing official government business.  You may have heard about “toga parties” in modern usage, but in Roman times, the toga was a very serious garment.
Here are some excellent resources for more background on Roman clothing:

Objectives: Students will be able to name and describe several articles of ancient Roman clothing.


*Many thanks to Matthew Katsenes of Moultonborough Academy (NH) and to Emma Vanderpool of UMass Amherst for modeling Matthew’s Roman clothing items and providing the pictures used in this lesson.


  1. Before the lesson: Assemble a set of Roman clothing using the instructions below.
  2. Share the background information with the students.
  3. Pass out copies of the Roman Clothing Handout and explain that the class will match each article of clothing to its name as volunteers try on each item.
  4. Ask for a volunteer to try on each article of clothing. After the first student puts on the first item (any of them), ask the class to find that item’s picture on the handout and guess its name. Tell them a little about each item as it is modeled.
  5. Continue until each article of clothing has been modeled and identified by name on the handout.
  6. Students can practice identifying each article of clothing by playing “Go Fish” with the card game listed in the materials.

TUNICA – a basic garment worn by itself or under the toga. Take two rectangles of a heavy white fabric (Romans used wool), and sew them along the shoulders and sides. Then tie a thin belt around the waist. The tunic should reach to the knees or lower and should be very roomy.
Simple Solution: Take an oversized t-shirt, and add a belt. For young kids, pillowcases are also a great option for achieving the tunic look. Cut out holes at the top and sides for the neck and arms, and then add a belt.

LACERNA – a cloak worn over the tunic or the toga. The lacerna was fastened at the right shoulder and was typically a dark color.
Simple Solution: Obtain a dark-colored bedsheet or other large piece of cloth. Hold the sheet in place at the right shoulder, and then bring it across the front of the body and around the back to meet the part at the front shoulder. Fasten the sheet in place at the right shoulder, using a large clip.

TOGA VIRILIS – a large, draping garment, usually made of wool. It was worn over top of a tunic and was wrapped over the shoulders and around the body. For the most authentic look, you’ll want a semi-circular piece of fabric up to twenty feet in length.
Simple Solution: Use a bedsheet. Begin by draping the sheet over the left shoulder. Then bring it around the back, under the right arm, and back up to the left shoulder again.

TOGA PRAETEXTA – a toga with a purple stripe several inches wide along the edge. This particular toga was worn by men who held office and by freeborn children.
Simple Solution: Add a wide purple/crimson stripe to a bedsheet or large piece of fabric. Then drape it following the same instructions as the toga virilis.

DALMATICA – a wide-sleeved tunic with stripes. The Dalmatica was an elaborate version of the tunic during the late Roman Empire. It could be worn by men or women and later became a liturgical garment that is still worn today in Roman Catholic and other churches.
Simple Solution: Take a long-sleeved oversized t-shirt, and add stripes, following the picture on the handout. Then add a belt.

CHITON – a sleeved, belted tunic which was worn by women. It was a long, draping garment that could be made in various bright colors. It consisted of two wide pieces of fabric that were sewn together at the sides and then buttoned together in several places along the shoulders and sleeves.
Simple Solution: Take two large, rectangular pieces of fabric (the same size), and sew them together along one side, stopping a bit before the end to leave space for the armholes. Then do the same along the opposite side so that you have one large, tube-shaped piece of fabric. (Choose your fabric size and whether you sew along the long sides or short sides based on how large you want the chiton.) Now fasten together the fabric along the sleeves and shoulders with pins, buttons, or clips, leaving space for the head and neck. Just add a belt around the waist, and you have a chiton! 
*For smaller children, here’s an option that allows you to skip the sewing and still achieve the general idea: Take a large pillowcase, and cut the short closed end open so that you have a tube-shaped piece of fabric. Now, along that same side that you cut, place a few pins at various intervals to create sleeves, leaving space for the head and neck. Add a belt, and you’re all set!

STOLA – a sleeveless tunic worn by married women. It had straps at the shoulders and was always worn over top of another tunic, such as the chiton.
Simple Solution: Caroline Lawrence (author of The Roman Mysteries) illustrates a simple, three-step process for making a stola here.  It’s the best!

PALLA – a long shawl worn over top of the chiton and stola when women went outdoors. 
Simple Solution: Find a large rectangular fabric of any color. Start at the left shoulder, and wrap it around the back, under the right arm, and then across the front of the body and over the left forearm or the shoulder.


2. LATIN LESSON: Make a Bulla and Write about Yourself

Introduction: In this lesson, students will decorate their own paper bullae and describe themselves in three Latin sentences.
A Roman boy wearing a bulla

Background: The Roman bulla was a necklace that had a pouch. It was worn by ancient Roman children for the purpose of keeping evil spirits away. It also identified them as freeborn Romans. Inside the bulla’s pouch were protective amulets or charms.  A Roman child would receive the bulla as a newborn. Boys wore it until the age of manhood. There is some question as to whether or not girls also wore the bulla, but we do know that there was a similar necklace for girls called the lunula. Depending on how wealthy the family was, the bulla’s pouch would be made of gold, leather, or cloth. For these class bullae, paper will be used.

Objectives: Students will be able to explain what a Roman bulla was and write simple sentences to introduce themselves in Latin.


Special Concerns: Students with more experience in Latin can be asked to write additional sentences. For example, they could describe their families by writing, “Habeo…matrem, patrem, fratrem/fratres, sororem/sorores, canem, felem, etc.”  They could also use the phrase “[infinitive] mihi placet” (it pleases me to ____) in place of “amo” to express the activities they like to do. The verb “amo” is used in the directions to keep the activity simple for beginners, but “mihi placet” would be a more authentic choice.


  1. Tell students about the Roman bulla using the background information above.
  2. Give students the Bulla Template and the Bulla Directions handout and explain that they will write three Latin sentences about themselves, include a few drawings, and add a picture of themselves. (The picture may be a drawing or a photo printout.)
  3. When the bulla posters are complete, students will present them to the class. Students should become very familiar with the Latin phrases since they will be repeated again and again.
  4. The teacher can display the bullae on the classroom walls.


Online Resource: PurposeGames
Each issue will feature a new or popular online resource that could prove useful for Latin and Classical Studies instruction. We aim to stay current so that you can wow your students with how “with-it” you are when it comes to technology!


PurposeGames lets teachers and students create games that make it fun and easy to learn information on almost any topic. It is a free website but requires that you create an account so that you can save and manage your games. It offers several types of quizzes, but one of the most unique is the Image Quiz. Simply upload an image, then place dots on the image by clicking, and type the corresponding answers. When a student plays the quiz, they have to click the dot that matches the answer.

We made a sample game, pictured below, using the clothing handout from Lesson 1 in this issue. PurposeGames can only upload image files, so it was necessary to take a screenshot of the handout first. The website was very user-friendly, and it only took about five minutes to create the game. The picture below shows our game in action. The five items with green circles have already been identified, and the three blue ones remain.  One nice feature is the corrective nature of the game: When an incorrect dot was clicked, the name of that incorrect garment popped up.

You and your students are welcome to check out our sample game here:


Famous Roman: Quintilian 
Each issue will feature a famous individual or group from Greek or Roman history whom you may wish to explore with your students. 

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a teacher of rhetoric who lived from about 35 to 100 A.D.  His great work “Institutio Oratoria” is one of the major sources of information about Roman education and public speaking.  In addition to covering how speakers should use voice and movement to make their speeches more effective, Quintilian discussed what kinds of clothing orators should wear and certain difficulties of wearing the toga, in particular.

Quintilian begins his section on clothing by saying that “there is no special garb peculiar to the orator, but his dress comes more under the public eye than that of other men.”  Speakers should take care not to wear the toga that is too high, too low, or ill-fitting and to position the fold in the right place.  But that only applies to the beginning of the speech, because as the speech goes on, the toga tends to slip from its careful placement and the speaker will get more hot and sweaty.  When the toga has slipped, Quintilian discusses whether to wrap the toga around the left hand or throw the fold over the right shoulder.  He recommends placing loosened parts of the toga under the left arm, but acknowledges that it is a challenge and likens it to a speaker being in combat with his toga. Quintilian concludes his advice to speakers about dress by allowing that a messy appearance at the end of a speech can actually work in the speaker’s favor:

“…the dishevelled locks make an additional appeal to the emotions, and that
neglect of such precautions creates a pleasing impression.  On the other hand, if
the toga falls down at the beginning of our speech, or when we have only
proceeded but a little way, the failure to replace it is a sign of indifference, or sloth,
or sheer ignorance of the way in which clothes should be worn.”
-Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria Book XI, ch. 3
  Translation by Bill Thayer of LacusCurtius

Quintilian was born in the province of Hispania. This statue of him stands in Spain today.


Random Find: Greek and Roman Fashions – A Coloring Book
Many items being sold today do not directly connect to Latin and Classical Studies, but with a little effort, we can adapt them to serve our purposes. This section explores these types of objects. 

Greek and Roman Fashions Coloring Book

This Dover Coloring Book by Tom Tierney depicts the clothing styles of various people, ranging from Greek peasants to Roman gladiators. Students of any age will enjoy coloring the detailed pictures and reading the informative captions.


Featured Word: Palliative and Protection
Each issue will feature a challenging English word that we encourage you and your students to explore together. The English word will always come from one or more Latin words. 

The word “palliative” can be an adjective or noun referring to the reduction of the pain of a disease and derives from the palla that Ancient Roman women would wear to cover themselves and protect them from the outside elements.  Latin had a related verb palliare which meant to cover or cloak.

In a similar way the word “protection” derives from the Latin verb tego, tegere, texi, tectum (to cover) and literally means “a covering.”  The word toga also derives from tego and was indeed a real and metaphorical cover or protection for the Roman citizens who were allowed to wear it.  The rights of Roman citizenship included the right to vote, run for office, have a legal marriage, sue someone in court, and have a trial if accused of a crime.  Related words include protégé (“one under the protection of another”), detective (“one who removes the cover”), and integumentary (“relating to a covering, such as skin, nails, or shells”).


Bonus Facts:

Roman Clothing through the ages

  • The Ancient Roman toga, a symbol of higher status, became the robe worn by students at the earliest universities in Europe (and are still worn by students at Oxford when taking exams).  This robe evolved into that worn by members of the clergy, judges, and even students such as Harry Potter at Hogwarts.  In Spanish today, the word “toga” means graduation robe, so all graduates carry a bit of the history of Roman dress with them.
  • A very famous woman today wears an Ancient Roman stola each and every day.  Tell students she is very tall, green, and holds a torch and see who can guess the Statue of Liberty first!
  • Roman fashion continues to influence our modern world. Check out these gladiator sandals!