Social status and sartorial symbols: The use and abuse of clothing in ancient Rome
Rothfus, Melissa A
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Far from a frivolous subject, the study of Roman dress and adornment provides insight into the way the Romans attempted to maintain stability and order in an expanding and changing society. I begin my study by presenting the premise that social interaction plays a critical role in the establishment of identity. That, combined with the Roman perspective that viewed outward appearances as reliable guides to internal character, lead us to understand that personal adornment functioned to define the social roles of members of society. This useful quality was first utilized in the Roman Republic, where were see sartorial symbols emerge to define various social segments and strata. The ability of sartorial symbols to impose order on society was not fully exploited until Augustus. By examining the way in which he used sartorial symbols to bolster his own position and organize and define the Roman people, we are better able to appreciate the full potential of clothing and adornment to act as constraints. Nevertheless we find that there were limits to the conformity imposed by sartorial symbols, and in a highly competitive culture, the bonds of traditional dress prescriptions only held by being flexible.