What did a Gaul actually look like?
“Their dress was very striking: They wore patterned shirts in different colors and long trousers, which they called bracas.” Diodorus
Many historic sources portray the Gauls as wild warriors who went to fight bare-chested and often boldly painted. This doesn’t seem to have been common in day to day life though, as even the hardest warriors try to avoid a cold. “Barbaric” gear made of leather and hides, in which the Celts are often portrayed in fantasy comics, is not documented either. Hides seem to have been worn usually as capes in winter or as decorative items of clothing, since they were too heavy and bulky otherwise.
As far as we know, the depictions found in the Asterix comics are fairly accurate. The Gauls wore simple pants, the “braccae”, which were tied to the body with leather belts and strings. Skintight pants, comparable to today’s leggings, have also been recorded for some Celtic tribes.
The Gauls covered their upper bodies with shirts similar to a tunic. Simplistic shirts made from linen or wool, which were produced from rectangular pieces of fabric and reached down to the buttocks, are also documented. They had a straight or round opening for the neck and two slits for the arms on the left and right side. Sometimes a “chiton” was worn as an additional layer over the shirt. It is a tubular piece of fabric bound together over the shoulder with fibulae and reaching down to the buttocks.
Over it, rectangular panels of fabric were bound to form a coat and tied together over the shoulder with fibulae. The caracalla was also widely popular; it was an ankle-length coat with a hood. Ceremonial coats and those for the rich were often lavishly decorated with fur, jewelry and fabric ornaments. On their feet people usually wore drawstring shoes made from leather that remained popular for centuries.
The Gauls had no consistent uniforms like the Romans did. Some higher-ranked warriors wore copper breast-plates, but such a large metal object was very expensive. Most warriors will have likely fought in their usual everyday clothing, of course equipped with a shield and sword, the standard armament of the Gaul warriors.
If we believe Latin historians they also often went to fight bare-chested. Here the Gauls used round or oval shields that were often boldly painted. For the northern relatives of the Gauls, the Celts on the British Isles, body painting is also documented.
Women wore simplistic dresses or skirts, cut either straight or as flared skirts. Blouses are also documented and some depictions of Celtic women in Roman frescoes also show them in pants similar to the braccae.
Just like the men, the women sometimes wore a chiton over it. Theirs was longer however, reaching down to the ankles. The top end of the chiton was turned down over the chest and back and tied together with fibulae over the shoulders.
Colors and patterns
The fabrics used for clothes were mainly made from wool, but linen was also commonly used, although it was harder to produce and hence more valuable. The fabrics were produced using looms and colored with natural dye: A yellow dye was made from genista tinctoria and red dye from rubia tinctorum, instead of the purple made from slugs, which would have been costly for the Gauls to import. The Celts produced a bright indigo blue from dyer’s woad, which remained popular for centuries and guaranteed the regions producing it lasting prosperity.
Remains of grave finds show the great technical skills of the Celts as weavers and tailors. We know that the Celts used patterns like herringbone and hounds-tooth and produced very complex checkered designs. For some of those patterns they even needed to adjust the wool for the final product while they were spinning it, so that it could later be processed using the loom. Their checkered patterns live on in the form of the tartans of Scottish clans.