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The many guises of the emperor Augustus
The many guises of the emperor Augustus

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3 Roman male dress

‘He always had clothes and shoes, fit to appear in public, ready in his bedroom for any sudden occasion.’ So recounts the Roman writer Suetonius (circa 69–122 CE) in chapter 73 of his biography of Augustus, showing that Rome’s first emperor was fully aware of the importance of appearance for someone in his position. In this section, you are going to look at different styles of male Roman dress and their meaning, with a view to being able to understand the symbolism of a number of images of Augustus you will encounter later on. Clothing had a special importance in the ancient world because textiles were hand-woven on looms, so they were time-consuming to produce and therefore expensive. For some people, their clothing will have been the most expensive thing they owned; therefore, it was one of the main ways in which a person could show identity and status.

So, what kinds of clothing did an elite Roman man like Augustus have at his disposal?