Toga! Toga! Toga!

styles of Roman toga

“Behold them, conquerors of the world, the toga-clad race of Romans!” ~ Augustus

Hello! This week we’re going to explore a piece of clothing that was used by both the Greeks and Romans. They each had their own take on it and it has survived to this day to become the center of much awesomeness.

Toga! Toga! Toga!

The toga isn’t just bed sheets and parties or for when you just want to feel awesome. It can be traced back as far the 8th century BC with Romulus, Rome’s founder. It was pretty much the Roman attire all the way to when Caracalla was the emperor of Rome and declared that all free men should be given Roman citizenship with the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 AD. When the population exploded from around 6 million to somewhere between 40 and 60 million citizens, the toga lost it’s position among the citizenry for the more practical tunic. Seriously, what was it with (as Tacitus calls them) the vulgus tunicatus (tunic crowd)?

The toga may have been losing popularity with the masses but not with the old die-hards. The real Romans (eyeroll) who followed the old ways and the ruling class were still expected to wear them. The ruling class went a little over-board with it, though, and made the togas even more voluminous and elaborate and totally impractical (yet really freaking cool to look at) in an effort to show the world who they were. Take THAT peasantry! They did, however, eventually come to their senses…about 200 years later…with the fall of the Roman Empire.

So Many Styles…

The toga came a long way from a simple semi-circular covering. It started it’s life as the Roman clothing you wouldn’t even be caught dead without at a measly 12 feet or 3.7 meters and got up to around 18 feet or 5 meters. There were roughly (I say roughly because my sources can’t seem to agree on a definite number) seven different types of toga. Isn’t it amazing what you can do with a sheet?

The toga virilis aka toga alba or toga pura was a plain woollen toga in it’s natural whitish colour. This was mainly for the regular Roman-about-town. (image 1)

The toga praetexta was a white toga with a broad purple or reddish-purple stripe on the border. The stripes had different thicknesses depending on the status of the wearer. It was used by mainly by magistrates for official functions and the Kings of Rome. Freeborn adolescent boys and some freeborn adolescent girls and some priesthoods also wore them. (image 2, 3, 4)

The toga picta were elaborate togas with embroidered designs on solid colours made to celebrate the triumphs (like a big parade and ceremony to celebrate and sanctify a general’s win at war) of generals. The emperor wore a toga picta dyed a solid royal purple. (image 5)

The trabea was a white shorter toga/wrap/sash worn over another toga. The elites when they were officiating at important ceremonies would wear one with a purple or saffron stripe. The citizens of the property-owning equite class would have worn a trabea with a narrow purple stripe. The augurs wore trabea with saffron and purple stripes. (image 6)

The toga pulla was a dark toga worn by mourners at funerals. But only at the funeral. Wearing one at the funeral feast was a huge social no-no. (image 7)

The toga candida (where we get the word “candidate”) was worn by political candidates to show their status and on special occasions. Chalk would be rubbed into the fabric to make it an even whiter white. I wonder if they had chalk sellers bragging about the toga whitening abilities of their chalk….precursor of our modern laundry detergent ads? (image 8)

The laena, though not exactly a toga, was a long heavy cloak worn mostly by Flamen priests over a toga. It was fastened at the shoulder with brooch or pin.

different types of Roman toga

Types of Toga (original artist not found)

What about the ladies?

No true married Roman lady or Statue of Liberty would be caught in a….toga! Unless she was a prostitute or adulterer, that is.

Statue of Liberty wearing Stola

Statue of Liberty wearing a stola

Introducing: The Stola

(insert applause here)

Under the Roman Sumptuary Laws (the Lex Appia) only married women were allowed to wear it as it showed their status as a respectable, married, traditional Roman woman. Courtesans and divorced adulterous women weren’t allowed and were forced to wear a toga.

Stola comes from the Latin word “stole” (garment). It was an outer garment that reached the ankles and was worn over the knee-length tunica intima. In case that wasn’t toasty enough under that hot sun, they also wore a shawl (palla) that went over the stola and was fastened with brooches.

Livia Drusila - Paestum

Livia Drusila – Paestum

It was fastened around the body with a girdle of ribbons with broad folds above the breast with a wider belt at the waist and at the shoulder by a Fibula or clasp. It had a flounce (or Instita) or a limbus (fabric with lots of folds) sewed to the bottom that reached the instep of the foot and also sometimes had sleeves.

It was usually made of cotton or wool and as trading with Asia became more of a thing, silks became more available to the wealthy women. They were usually white, yellow, red or blue but as time went on more colours became available. Wealthier women had more embellishments and detail on their stola while common women usually had the more simple band around the hem with a different colour or pattern.

Up next: the Greeks! They had their own take on the toga. Find out what that was here.

What do you think of the toga? Do you know any more cool facts about them? Please share or comment below!

Classical history rocks.


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10 comments on “Toga! Toga! Toga!

  1. Selenity Jade

    I love ancient history! That said, I hope they could wear underwear under those sheets! Though likely not. I knew that they were togas but I had no idea there were 7-8 different kinds. I never realized how elaborate the rules regarding wearing it too. Learned one interesting fact from your article, too. Respectable women didn’t wear them.  I always thought it was pretty unisex. Excellent article on this historic way to wear a sheet. Thank you!

    1. Tricia

      I’m glad you liked it! No, it was pretty scandalous if a woman wore one. ….and no, they didn’t use underwear. Though some did use kind of a tunic undergarment.

  2. jacobs2

    As I have always been interested in Greek and Roman history, your post is very interesting. The Toga seems to 
    have been a kind of “uniform” with the grades beïng replaced by colored lines or other attributes.

    As for today, the Toga is still worn in my country Belgium by the prosecutors and the judges presiding à Belgian court. Just link in the Roman times, the higher you rank in the court hierarchy the more attributes on the Toga.  

    The discrimination of non-married people was indeed as you describe it in Roman times.

    1. Tricia

      Thank you very much. With so much information out there finding good and accurate sources to learn from and share can sometimes be a challenge. That’s really interesting about the Toga being used in Belgium. I’d love to learn more about that as it’s not too often you find the Toga being used anymore.

  3. Gwendolyn J

    I honestly cannot imagine wearing 12 feet of fabric all day long. It boggles my mind.
    Of course, they didn’t have zippers, so they used what was there.
    I really love this post, simply because I am a rather big history geek myself. I will be bookmarking it for future reads.
    Thanks for the lesson on ROamn fashion.

    Take care,
    Gwendolyn J

    1. Tricia

      Thank you…glad you enjoyed! I couldn’t imagine it either…there are some days when a sweater is annoying. Wearing that much…and in the heat of their summers too. Maybe the gaps between the pins offered some ventilation.

  4. jpaliskis

    Hmm, this is interesting article. “toga toga toga” I never knew what it is even, didn’t know the name until now. Interesting to read, clear explanation about different kinds of togas.I always was thinking that is a special clothes the Romans worn but never knew the difference between them. What a good history lesson!

  5. James

    Nice post Tricia! What I found facinating about the Romans was their feasting. They would eat to such excess they had vomitoriums to throw up so they could fit more in! Do you know how they kept their togas clean doing that given the togas were a white colour and not exactly close fitting! Did they have spare clothes for this activity?

    1. Tricia

      Vomitoriums…I can totally see the need with all of that amazing food. I’m not exactly sure how they would keep them so white…perhaps more chalk and a few annoyed clothes washers? It would definitely make sense to have a spare on hand to change into in case of an accident.


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