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The Color of Roman Clothes

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I remember my Latin teaching commenting about a woman on the cover of our textbook wearing a yellow dress which meant she was probably a prostitute. Is that correct? I'm asking because I think it seems strange that prostitutes would have an assigned color of clothes to wear.

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A yellow dress did not mean a Roman prostitute any more than a red dress means one today. In fact a Roman bride wore a long veil of bright yellow on her wedding day.

 

The common yellow dye came from a plant called Weld, and was popular with both men and women, since despite the idea of Romans wandering around draped in bedsheet-white togas, a tunic - preferably brightly coloured - was everyday wear for most men. Roman erotic wall paintings, some of which are believed to depict prostitutes, show clothes of various colours.

 

The ancient sources tell us where prostitutes worked, what they wore, how they were licensed and when they were allowed to operate (after the ninth hour). I've never heard of a statuatory colour for their clothing.

 

(Incidentally, the name comes from the small rooms where the women worked - stabula - from whence we also get the word 'stable'. A woman looking for trade would stand in front of the room, as a prostabula. The cheaper ones worked under archways - fornices - and their semi-public couplings were 'fornication'.)

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A yellow dress did not mean a Roman prostitute any more than a red dress means one today. In fact a Roman bride wore a long veil of bright yellow on her wedding day.

 

The common yellow dye came from a plant called Weld, and was popular with both men and women, since despite the idea of Romans wandering around draped in bedsheet-white togas, a tunic - preferably brightly coloured - was everyday wear for most men. Roman erotic wall paintings, some of which are believed to depict prostitutes, show clothes of various colours.

 

The ancient sources tell us where prostitutes worked, what they wore, how they were licensed and when they were allowed to operate (after the ninth hour). I've never heard of a statuatory colour for their clothing.

 

(Incidentally, the name comes from the small rooms where the women worked - stabula - from whence we also get the word 'stable'. A woman looking for trade would stand in front of the room, as a prostabula. The cheaper ones worked under archways - fornices - and their semi-public couplings were 'fornication'.)

 

This is Tour Guide gold, Maty. Thankyou for that - I'm very impressed by your knowlege of prostitution! :rolleyes:

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I think the idea of prostitutes wearing special clothing for identification comes from Renaissance Italy. During the Renaissance certain classes of people, or those belonging to certain occupations, had to wear standard clothing that denoted their class/occupation. These restrictions on what people could or could not wear were often held by the law of the land. There doesn't seem to be anything of the sort in Ancient Rome though.

 

While we are on the subject of Roman clothes, is there any truth to the claim that Roman marines wore blue tunics, centurions/optiones wore red tunics, while Roman legionaries wore white, terracotta coloured, and/or brown tunics?

I think Graham Sumner wrote a book on the subject which did support the idea of Roman Marines wearing blue tunics, but I can't find evidence to support the other two ideas. I personally thought that Roman soldiers would have had a 'rag tag' appearance, with legionaries wearing many different coloured tunics and several different styles of helmets and armour.

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The issue of colour was sometimes very significant to the Romans. Legionaries did not wear white, but rather natural undyed tunics that were a sort of off-white (although soldiers of senior positions undoubtedly used whiter tunics than the common legionary. Concerning red for centurions, that is the accepted norm, but it might be a distortion of the fact, since red was also used to simulate purple by over-dying the cloth, and purple was very sugnificant as a status marker.

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Hello!  I've been researching color in 1st century Rome...and yeah, the paintings from that time period showed all sorts of color:

 

I've read that the Vestal Virgins wore yellow, as did brides, and I read somewhere that saffron yellow was only supposed to be worn by married women and vestal virgins, (although that was only one source, so I'm not sure how good it was).  The yellow made from weld I gather was ok for everyone to wear.  So, anyways, that leads me to believe yellow was definitely NOT associated with prostitutes.    

 

 

But I have read that prostitutes wore a dark toga (as did mourners...not sure if it was the same)

http://cathyscostumeblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/still-more-about-toga.html

 

 

You can read about the various colors that were available in Roman times here:

http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-clothing/colors-of-roman-clothing.htm

Edited by goldenecho

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