British Clothing

Basic Clothing

The Britons write nothing down and carve no lasting images of themselves, so we have to rely on secondary sources. The Romans have a number of contradictory sources for what the Britons are wearing.
However as the tunic/ trousers and cloak, with some variation on the theme, would appear to be the common mode of dress across northern Europe for thousands of years, then this is likely what Britons are wearing. Just like we do, they would have "layered up" for colder/adverse weather and "layered down" and switched to lighter fabrics for warmer weather.

Period materials are wool and linen. Yes, you can get cotton and silk, in the period, but they would be a rarity in Britain.

Colour and weave

The Romans make mention of the patterned quality of both British and Gallic dress. The image (right) from Volubilis, Morocco assumed to be that of a 'Celt' ?

According to Diodorus (notice he refers to only cloaks as patterned):

'The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or chequered in design, with the separate checks close together and in various colours'

Unfortunately  portrayal of a 'Celt', sometime means that _every_ item of clothing is checked or striped in some way, often with the same pattern, and you turn yourself into something from the Clan McCar-Rug. While it's certainly possible, it is more likely that clothing was as often as not of a single colour or left in it's natural shade.


Fairly complex patterns can be woven into the cloth in addition to the the more simple, and common, dogtooth, houndstooth, herringbone and twill weaves. You will need to ensure that modern patterned cloth is actually achievable using ancient techniques. Anything that looks like a 'clan' tartan is usually best avoided !

Very bright colours can be made using ancient dysestuffs that are 'fast' (i.e. they don't fade too badly), although it is true to say that some colours are not easily attained or fade very quickly. For that more authentic look, you could wash the life out of your tunic to get that "faded/not quite fast" look. 
Colour-wise, you are on safest ground with blues (although not too deep a colour), yellows and browns. Green is made by over dying yellow and blue together, so dependant on the mordant and PH levels of the water used the result ranges from near neon to "baby poo" green.  Yes, before you email in, we know you can also get a number of "impossible" colours from native lichens.

Natural coloured linen (off-white with a yellow or pearl-grey tinge) or wool that has its natural brown or "dusty" grey colours are great.

White can be made by using the whitest wool and/or by bleaching, but is probably less practical in terms of everyday cleaning for your average Briton.

Red is a colour best kept to a minimum,  as the only means of producing red cloth is via dyes that are not native to the British isles.  Also avoid black and scarlet.  Purple is almost unobtainable beyond the trading infrastructure of the Roman world (although, again. a sort of purple can be made with lichen).

Tunic and "Super Tunic"

Patterns on tunics are a difficult area. There are no clear pictorial sources and no complete finds. Where there are Roman carvings, then it might be that civilians are wearing what is termed the "gallic coat".

This "gallic coat" occurs in numerous carvings from Gaul and appears to be a tunic that comes to just below the knee with wrist or elbow length sleeves. It could also have a relatively narrow body with sleeves. It is possible that is is worn over an undertunic.
Fringing is shown on some "gallic coats" on the hem of the garment and is simply the ends of the warp that are not trimmed to the end of the weft. With modern cloth, this is achieved by removing the threads "across" the hem and leaving the threads that are running down.

Neck holes should be slit and NOT keyhole shape (saxon) or "v" shaped.

Pattern wise, the "T seam tunic" (or drop sleeved tunic) is an elegant solution to making something that looks right without wasting loads of cloth, although there are earlier and later finds that use complex multi-piece and fold construction.

We would recommend that all tunics fall to at least the knee level and have either elbow or wrist length sleeves. There is some evidence for very long sleeves that are turned back (like cuffs). Fringing is an option on wool tunics (not really possible on linen).

Most members tend to wear wool tunics during the colder months and switch to linen for the summer days.




Trousers and leg bindings
The real evidence for trousers in our period comes from pictorial sources, both Roman and native

Numerous images on Roman carvings and from items such as the Gundestrup cauldron, which is "Danish" and dated to the 1st/2nd century BC, show trousers as only reaching the mid calf.

There are Roman carvings from Britain, in which natives are shown in similar garments, but this could be an artistic convention.

Where Gauls are represented in Roman sculpture then they can be seen wearing longer trousers (the statue of a dead warrior found at Alesia, for example).

On some British coins, some of the warriors appear to be wearing short trousers that are slightly higher and baggier. These could be either the long trousers, tied up above the knee or they could be longer trousers with some sort of leg wrap.

The Vicus allows the use of:

  • calf length trousers; tight to the leg
  • calf length trousers that are baggier, which might allow them them to be pulled above the knee.
  • any sort of trouser with the addition of leg wraps.
  • Long trousers.



The simple rectangular cloak would appear to the most common form of cloak in both Roman and British culture.

Obviously the length is going to vary, but usually it would be long enough to reach from shoulder to the floor (more if you want to use it as a hood as well) and wide enough to wrap around you.

It is usually pinned, with a single brooch or other fastening, at the shoulder.

Cloaks are your cold and wet weather coat. They would be thick, warm and often waterproofed.

The famous Byrrus Britanicus get's mentioned in roman sources, almost as the ultimate in wet weather gear. This is likely to have been a fuller, thicker cloak probably with a hood