Study Group A: Self and Society in dressing the Body

Spokespersons: Dr. Maureen Carroll, University of Sheffield, and
Dr. Ursula Rothe, University of Edinburgh

In sociological and anthropological literature, the role of dress in human society has often been described as a Naples womanform of non-verbal language or code through which people communicate to their audience their place in society, or `identity´. `Identity´ is, however, a multi-faceted concept. People generally have many aspects to their identity, such as gender, ethnic group, age, wealth, profession or religion. Dress has the ability to express all of these simultaneously, and the same was the case in the ancient period. In terms of its audience, dress does two antithetical things: it includes into a group identity those dressed the same way and excludes those who dress differently. Similarly, dress choice is both public and personal and as such is influenced not only by social constraints but also by individual choice. This leads to enormous diversity in dress behaviour. For example, inhabitants of Rome´s provinces often negotiated their ethnic identity by wearing a mixture of native and Roman clothes in a variety of combinations. Dressing the body can also be both a passive process and be actively used as a medium of asserting a person´s position in non-verbal social `dialogue´. In other words, some dress choice situations are more conscious than others, and the audience plays a part in its selection. For example, in some parts of the Roman north-west, dress chosen for portraits on grave monuments may well have been different from that worn by the same people in everyday life. Gender research also is of special interest here, as it is the women who more often than the men are depicted wearing their native costume rather than Roman dress foreign to the provinces.

Study Group A aims to apply theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches to the ancient evidence in order to shed light on the role of dress in the expression of people´s social identities. Specific foci of the research are:

  • the nature of interplay between different aspects of identity as expressed in dress
  • the formulation of group identities according to those aspects
  • the relationship between group identities and individual identities
  • the role of the audience and social expectation in the choice of dress
  • the relationship between dress worn in an idealised image and that worn in everyday reality
  • the relationship between public and private dress choice and the role of the wearer in society in terms of public and private
  • the role of dress and bodily adornment in expressing social values associated with gendered behaviour

Pannonian Family

For the participants in Study Group A and their individual research projects, see Project Participants & Descriptions.

Study Group A (Self and Society) is one of ten different project groups in which scholars from various European institutions conduct research and stimulate debate on clothing and identity. As well as research on dyes, quality and manufacture of textiles, other research topics include Gender and Age, Clothing and Religion, and Rome and the Provinces.

For general information on the EU-Project

visit the Clothing and Identities. New Perspectives on Textiles in the Roman Empire (DressID) webpage