Feminalia

Feminalia were snugly fitting knee-length pants, or breeches. Though the name might suggest that they were worn by women, in fact they were worn most often by men. They were called fem-inalia because the pants covered the length of the thighbone, or femur.

During the Roman Republic (509-27 b.c.e.) men had generally avoided wearing trousers or pants of any kind, considering it a barbaric costume. They had good reason for this idea, for the people they saw wearing clothing on their legs were the barbarians who lived on the outskirts of the areas controlled by Rome, especially the loosely organized Gauls who lived in the colder north, in present-day France. During the Roman Empire (27 b.c.e.-476 c.e.), however, Roman soldiers ventured further and further north in pursuit of conquest. Eventually they made their way to Britain, where many men wore pants to protect themselves from the cold. Soon, Roman soldiers, especially horsemen, adopted the short, close-fitting pants of the barbarians, and they returned home with them.

Feminalia never became as popular as the main men's garments, the toga and the tunica, or shirt, but they did become acceptable wear for work or for travel to colder climates. Mounted soldiers, called cavalry, usually wore leather feminalia, similar to the chaps worn by cowboys in the western United States in the nineteenth century. Civilians wore feminalia made from a variety of materials, including wool and cotton. The most famous Roman to wear feminalia was the emperor Augustus Caesar (63 b.c.e.-14 c.e.), who wore them through the winter to protect his sometimes fragile health.

Ancient Roman Emperor Clothing
The Roman emperor Nero wearing tight pants called feminalia under his tunic. Feminalia were worn for warmth by Roman soldiers, horsemen, and even emperors. Reproduced by permission of © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Rome. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

[See also Volume 1, Ancient Rome: Braccae]

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