What to Wear in the First Century and How to Stay Clean

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

What did women wear in the days of Jesus? Did women have to keep their hair covered? How did women stay clean without modern soap and shampoo?

Join with me as we step into the shoes of a first-century woman who might have walked with the messiah!

This is the fourth lesson in our series on How to Live as a Woman in First-Century Israel, your how-to guide for the time-travel enthusiast. Take a look at our sources in our introductory post. Explore women at work in the Bible to discover the many trades you might be involved in. Learn how to manage your household, including child care and providing for servants. Prepare for your first-century marriage or divorce and learn what rights a wife might expect.

While we know that true beauty comes from within, in this post, we're going to take a look at your outward appearance.

What to Wear

The clothes of a first-century woman reflect her status and her occupation. As you prepare a wardrobe for life in the first century, you must carefully consider your daily life.

Clothes for the Poor Woman

A woman from a poor family will wear simple clothing made from undyed wool. (A crowd of poor people gathered on a grassy hillside might look very much like a flock of sheep!) You can create a tunic by sewing a tube of cloth up the sides, leaving holes for neck and arms. Your basic tunic will be layered with a belted cloak/coat/dress.

While working, your clothes need to be narrow and short enough in length to make it easy to move around in your duties while shielding your skin from the elements and providing modesty. If you work outside in the fields or garden, you will need something to protect your head from the heat, like a loose scarf or hat. Your shoes will need to be sturdy, with thick soles of wood or leather. (1)

Clothes for the Woman of Leisure

A wealthy woman in Israel might wear Greek-inspired clothing that drapes gracefully over her form, like a peplos or chiton (pronounced in ancient Greek as khee-tone'). A chiton is a tunic made of a large rectangle of cloth and is fastened at the shoulders with pins or broaches. You will layer a cloak called a himation (pronounced him-at'-ee-on) over the chiton or tunic when leaving the house or when it is cool. You can use the himation as a hood to cover your hair when out in public. Both a chiton and a himation are referenced in the Greek scriptures. χιτών for chiton and ἱμάτιον for himation, such as in Matthew 5:40 and Luke 6:29. (1)

There is also the traditional Roman style. In Rome, married women of means wear a stola, which is a woman's style toga (women do not wear togas). A stola is worn over simple tunics. This draped fashion might be dyed blue, green, red, or saffron yellow. There is some variety to how you might wear a Roman stola, such as belted twice under your breasts and at your waist, with long sleeves or short, or layered with a long-sleeved tunic. (2)

Roman undergarments are similar to a modern bra and girdle. To keep their figure, some athletic Roman women exercise in something similar to a bikini, believe it or not. (2)

A rich woman can afford fine linen, embroidered cloth, and expensive dyes to color her robes in brilliant hues of yellow, pur