Female Dress at Rome: Getting it Right

Ancient Attire is a Digital Lecture Series on Dress, Adornment and Vestimentary Codes in the Ancient Mediterranean World.

This lecture is presented by Dr. Mary Harlow

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About the lecture

The primary sources for dress in ancient Rome are documentary, literary and visual. These are complemented with archaeological findings which, although often fragmentary, give real context to the images produced by the written and visual sources. As with many aspects of women’s lives in antiquity, we lack a female voice in the question of clothing and fashion, but we have a surfeit of male opinions about what women should and could wear. Roman moral codes are often framed around the dressed and undressed image of women, and we have little idea of how far women might have bought into or rejected/played with these images. This lecture will examine the realities of wearing the Roman female wardrobe, and discuss how we might investigate a woman’s point of view when making clothing choices.

Mary Harlow. PhotoAbout  Dr. Harlow

Mary Harlow recently retired from the University of Leicester where she held a position as Associate Professor (2013-21). Prior to this she was a Guest Professor at the Centre for Textile Research in Copenhagen (2011-13). Her research and publications cover the study of dress and appearance, the history of age, ageing and the life course, and gender in the Roman period. Most recently she has contributed to and edited 

  • A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion: Antiquity (2017)
  • A Cultural History of Hair: Antiquity (2019)
  • Textiles and Gender in Antiquity: From the Orient to the Mediterranean (2020)
  • A Cultural History of Shopping: Antiquity (2022).

Digital event - how to participate

The seminar will be held digitally. If you wish to attend a lecture, you need to register in advance.

Register here!

A zoom link will be sent to you before the event. You can download Zoom or use your browser: https://zoom.us/download

Suggestions for further Reading

  • Harlow, Mary, 2012. ‘Dressing to please themselves: clothing choices for Roman women’ in Dress and Identity, M. Harlow ed. (Archeopress: Oxford):37-46.

  • Harlow, Mary, ed. 2017. A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion in Antiquity. (Bloomsbury: London) – a good introduction to the topic, especially chapters by Glenys Davies and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Kelly Olson, Lena Larsson Lovén and Mary Harlow.

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

  • Olson, Kelly, 2002. ‘Matrona and whore: the clothing of Roman women in Antiquity’. Fashion Theory 6.4: 387-420.


About Ancient Attire

A Digital Lecture Series on Dress, Adornment and Vestimentary Codes in the Ancient Mediterranean World

The aim of this series is to investigate vestimentary codes in ancient cultures, and to explore how these concepts relate to gender, hierarchy and power.

Seven excellent international researchers, experts on the material cultures and texts of the ancient Mediterranean, will present a 30-minute lecture, followed by amble time for questions and discussion.

We are interested in mapping dress and adornment as broadly as possible and therefore we encourage our speakers to consider vestimentary codes from a multi-sensorial perspective and to give thought to both touch, smell, taste, hearing and vision.

Ancient Attire Programme - Fall 2022


The lecture series is organized by Professor Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme and hosted by The Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo and the Faculty’s research group Biblical Texts, Cultures and Receptions.

Published June 28, 2022 11:23 AM - Last modified Nov. 15, 2022 10:12 AM