What to wear during the day at Costume College is always trouble for me. Whether it’s for sitting in classes or lounging around, I don’t want to wear a corset so most of what I have is out. A friend mentioned throwing together (NOT historically accurate) B*tchy Roman Loungewwear ™, a la Spartacus, and many of us latched onto it immediately.
The Spartacus gowns look so good because they have some pretty complicated structure under there. They are not just wrapped fabric like a real Roman lady would wear. They are highly stylized and fitted around the bust and waist. I wanted some of that shaping structure without having to sew much, so I started off with a spaghetti strap sundress from the Gap that I had on hand. You may use anything that has small straps and a fitted bust and waist. Mine has a back zip and I have not thought about how you might work this with a side-zip, so keep that in mind.
The dress went on the mannequin and the draping stared. I used a sari which are usually about 6 yards long by 45″ wide; this was too long for what I was doing so I folded it in half because I didn’t want to cut it and it was sheer. This leaves me 45″x~3 yards – You may use any length of fabric First was the armholes and bust drape. This is done asymmetrically to give shape to it. The armseye had to be comfortable but as small as possible so I’d have a good drape left across the bust. For me that was about 20″. Attach the top left corner to 20″ in along the top edge, then attach the top right corner to 20″ down the right-side edge. Now attach both of those points to the center of your shoulder straps on the base dress. You may add decorative jewels here if you wish.
Next, pull the sides of the fabric around to the back of the dress and tack down right where the top of the zipper ends. Cover this as best you can, but you may need to add a small hook & eye or snap there to fully conceal the top of the dress. From here we need to close the fabric “tube” before we star adjusting the flow of the folds. Pin the back closed all the way from the top, but only sew shut from the bottom of the zipper to the bottom of the base dress. You need to be able to get into this! The back seam should rotate around the left side of your mannequin. Keep the pins in the unsewn part during the next adjusting and tacking steps or you may pull too much fabric to conceal the closure in the back.
Now, start smoothing and tacking the fabric to the base in front. You’ll need to experiment here with what works for you. Because the fabric is asymmetrically pulling to the left, I reach in through both armseyes to pinch and lift the fabric up under the bust line and smooth the sternum area, moving fabric to the right side. Pin then adjust, repin, adjust, and don’t tack it until you like it! I have 5 points secured on mine: at left/right underarm, left/right waist, and one where I lifted up the bust fabric and tacked center front to control that from drooping.
For the back, you want to pin/tack the excess fabric in folds along the back seam, and smooth as much around the waist as you can. I started by pulling the right-back smooth, creating a surplice-wrap-type-fold around the right hip. Once that is pinned, I recommend you try it all on before placing and tacking any more spots on the other side in back. A draped garment will rarely fit your mannequin the way it fits your body. Pin anywhere you need, carefully remove and tack any place you still have a pin. Voila!
This should be essentially done, excepting a couple of details… you have a fairly substantial train that you may leave as-is, or you may take the outside corner of it and pull it around your left up and secure it somewhere under your bosom or to the back. You may also add a belt, tie cords, or add jeweled pins to bling it up.
I wear mine with a gold belt pinned up under the bust, almost a Regency homage to the Greek style they loved so much. For my hair (which is short) I throw a couple of curly banana clip hair pieces in it, top it with a tiara and a swagged necklace and I’m off to bet on the Gladiators!
I hope this was helpful in creating your own Romanesque outfit.