The Toga is generally regarded as the item of Roman clothing, although clearly it wasn’t the only item available. It was reserved for Roman citizens and generally used when appearing in public, a little like putting on a suit and tie.
The toga itself was a long oval or semi-circular sheet of woolen fabric, approximately three meters in width although its size could vary with the wearer’s importance and wealth. It had no pockets or sleeves.
The toga’s colour is generally accepted as having been white although it is likely that it could vary from brilliant white through to a more crude white akin to that of the natural colour of the wool. This would allow for the historical references to the “Toga Candida” (candid toga) worn by those competing for office – Candidates – also worn on public feasts and render it sufficiently different from the everyday “Toga Alba” (white toga). It is likely that those who were less affluent could render their Toga Alba sufficiently white by chalking it over.
Ways of Wearing the Toga
Bearing in mind the ancient Rome’s long history, the toga was worn in a handful of different ways, corresponding to different cuts and different means of wrapping it around the body. For example Cato, who had great respect for the austerity of the early Republic, often wore his toga in the rustic manner of old (clasped over the shoulder, possibly without a tunic or with a sleeveless tunic underneath).
Then we would have the toga as worn by Senators and Orators such as Cicero. In fact it is relatively easy to identify statues of orators because of their manner of dress and pose.
Julius Caesar enjoyed wearing his loosely so that it might drag on the floor behind him a little – in quite an effeminate manner it seems.
The images below give an idea of different types of toga and different results they might give….
How to wear the Toga
In order to wear the toga it would be folded along its length and then draped round the wearer like a scarf, draped over the left shoulder, under the right shoulder and over the left again. One end would be left hanging down the back whilst the other was folded into a fold in the front of the body. The end could be fastened with a pin called a fibula on the shoulder.
On religious feasts and other such occasions when it might be necessary to cover the head the part of the toga which was drawn over the right shoulder could be drawn over the head. This means of covering the head was limited to the city as travellers would wear hats to cover their heads when necessary.
It is unclear whether there was any sort of tying around the waist or not but it is likely that this would have been provided by an extra piece of toga rather than a separate item of apparel. It seems that the likes of Julius Caesar and Maecenas preferred to keep waist loosened, allowing the rest of the gown to flow out and hang around the back and near the feet.
Types of Toga
There were different types of Toga according to one’s social rank and position in society. The highest order of Toga was the purple toga (“purpurea”) inherited from the Etruscans during the reign of the fifth King of Rome Tarquinius Priscus (616-579).
Other types of toga were the
- Praetexta, worn by magistrates and children. It was considered sacred.
- Pura, Virilis, Libera. Worn by adults hence its name Virilis or Libera (free).
- Pulla, Sordida. These were black and generally worn in occasions such as mourning of the dead although he Pulla might be dyed black whilst the Sordida could be black with dirt.
- Undulata, Sericulata, Rasa, Paverata, Phryxiana, Scutulata and so on. All on account of the fabric’s weave, design etc.
- Picta, Palmata. Decorated possibly with palmettes around the border
- Purpurea – the purple robe of kings and emperors borrowed from Etruscan tradition.
- Trabea and Chlamys. Similar to the Picta and Purpurea but possibly worn more often by military officers or soldiers as a coat.
The Purpurea, Picta, Palmata, Trabea and Chlamys probably varied in decoration rather like military grades might vary from one rank to another. They were therefore quite similar although not identical. For example the Chlamys of the emperor could be all purple but with a golden embroidery around the edge.
Over the Toga
The toga or other clothing could be covered by a gown or cloak called the Lacerna or Penula according to their length. At first this was used in the military camp or for travelling but it’s usefulness against the weather gradually brought it into the city also. There might also have been a slight difference in colour between the two types of cloak.