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The Roman Toga

By Natasha Sheldon

The Toga was the national dress of male Roman citizens. Cumbersome to wear, there were various types to suit every occasion.

The toga was the mark of the male Roman citizen. Traditionally woollen, it was usually worn on formal occasions. Togas varied according to the status of the wearer and the occasion.

 

What was the Toga?

 

The toga was a semicircular piece of cloth three times the length of the wearer’s height. Traditionally of white wool, it was the adapted by the Romans from an Etruscan garment.

 

The toga was exclusively for male citizens. It was forbidden for foreigners and slaves to wear it. If a roman citizen was sent into exile, he was also denied the right to dress in the toga.

 

Originally, the toga was worn alone. In the late republic, some purists continued this practice as a statement of roman virtue. But by this time, most other male citizens wore their toga over the base garment of a tunic.

 

How to Wear a Roman Toga.

 

The toga was wrapped about the body in a series of complex drapes that left only the right arm free, making it a cumbersome garment to wear. It was also not something a Roman man could put on without help.

 

Before putting on the toga, the cloth was pleated along its length. It was then draped over the left shoulder and passed across the body under the right arm. The long drape of cloth formed by this action was known as the sinus.

The cloth was then passed back over the left shoulder and tucked in at the waist, forming the umbo. A loose drape of cloth at the back could be used to cover the head on religious occasions.

 

Although the right arm remained free, it was impossible to move the left arm. This was because it was keeping the garment in place, along with the weight of the fabric.

 

Different Types of Toga.

 

  1. Toga Praetexta. A purple bordered white toga, it was worn only by youths under sixteen and curule magistrates. On coming of age, all Roman adults who did not have magisterial duties put on the traditionally white toga virilise.
  2. Toga Candida. Reserved for those in high office, this toga was especially whitened with chalk, hence the name ‘candida’. Those who wore it became known as ‘the white ones’. From this, we derive the word candidate.
  3. Toga Palmata. This was a toga only allowed to conquering generals during their triumphal processions. It later became a toga of the Emperor.
  4. Toga pulla/toga sordida. This was a dark woollen toga worn during periods of mourning.
  5. Toga Picta. A purple toga embroidered with gold thread. Originally worn by triumphant generals and later the state garment for emperors.
  6. Toga Traebea. This multicoloured, ceremonial toga was either wholly purple or striped with purple for emperors, priests and augers.

 

When was the Toga worn?

 

Some form of toga was always worn in public during the early republic. As the imperial period progressed, it became a strictly ceremonial garment worn only on formal occasions.

 

Attempts were made to simplify the toga and make it more comfortable to wear on social occasions. But this did not really succeed. In the end, those Romans who wanted a ‘smart casual’ alternative to dress up a tunic on a night out or at a dinner party opted for the pallium. This was a simple drape of material that was worn diagonally across the body and held in place on one shoulder by a broach.

 

Sources

Gibbon’s (abridged and illustrated 1979).   Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire .Bison Books

Roman clothing part 1