Travels with a toga: Roman dress in the classroom

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 09.59.33OU Classical Studies Lecturer Ursula Rothe has been visiting school pupils to talk about her research on Roman dress.

On 2nd March I went to Redborne Upper School in Ampthill, Bedfordshire to give a talk to senior school pupils on the topic of Roman dress. It was the first time I had done something like this with props – I had spent a weekend sewing together Roman garments like male and female tunicae, an exomis, a palla and a toga complete with detachable purple stripe! In all, 65 students turned up to learn about how dress not only reflected but was actively used to enact specific roles in Roman society, such as

  • Gender: how men and women were meant to look and behave in public
  • Class: what social rank your occupation belonged to (clue: the lessUR toga 2 clothing you wore, the lower down the social scale you were!)
  • Age: the way elite Roman children wore the toga praetexta (toga with purple stripe) as symbolic protection from harm and inappropriate language and actions, and how clothing symbolised their coming-of-age: boys adopting a toga virilis (plain white toga) at a special ceremony and girls adopting matron’s dress on the day after their wedding
  • Religious observance: how both men and women covered their heads when performing religious ceremonies

The enthusiasm of the students was overwhelming and I was only sorry that not everyone got to dress up!

by Ursula Rothe

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