Few forms of classic attire have lasted as long as the toga. It’s history is long and varied. Unfortunately, what a toga is today is far from it’s original purpose, despite it’s always maintained legendary status.
Togas in their earliest form were worn as garments by Romans. In fact, the only time the Romans were caught not porting their noble attire was in activity or in the home. However, if ever encountered in public the typical Roman respected his fellow statesmen by dressing in the classic robes.
Over time, Roman attire evolved to more comfortable and practical forms of clothing. Tunics, cloaks, and more practical shirts took their place in the Roman wardrobe, but the toga remained at the center of Roman nobility dress. In fact, non-romans, poor citizens, and exiled citizens were forbidden from wearing Togas.
So here are some things you may not know.
There were many kinds of togae, each used differently.
- Toga virilis (or toga alba or toga pura): A plain white toga worn on formal occasions by most Roman men of legal age, generally about 14 to 18 years.
- Toga candida: “Bright toga”; a toga bleached by chalk to a dazzling white (Isidorus Orig. xix. 24, 6), worn by candidates for public office. Thus Persius speaks of a cretata ambitio, “chalked ambition”. Oddly, this custom appears to have been banned by plebiscite in 432 BC, but the restriction was never enforced. The term is the ethymologic source of the word candidate.
- Toga praetexta: An ordinary white toga with a broad purple stripe on its border. It was worn by:
- Freeborn boys who had not yet come of age.
- All curule magistrates.
- Ex-curule magistrates and -dictators, upon burial and apparently at festivals and other celebrations as well.
- Some priests (e.g., the Flamen Dialis, Pontifices, Tresviri Epulones, the augurs, and the Arval brothers).
- During the Empire, the right to wear it was sometimes bestowed as an honor independent of formal rank.
- According to tradition, the Kings of Rome.
- Those with the right to wear a toga praetexta were sometimes termed laticlavius, “having a broad crimson stripe”. It also gave its name to a literary form known as praetexta.
- Toga pulla: Literally just “dark toga”. It was worn mainly by mourners, but could also be worn in times of private danger or public anxiety. It was sometimes used as a protest of sorts—when Cicero was exiled, the Senate resolved to wear togae pullae as a demonstration against the decision. Magistrates with the right to wear a toga praetexta wore a simple toga pura instead of pulla.
- Toga picta: This toga, unlike all others, was not just dyed but embroidered and decorated. It was solid purple, embroidered with gold. Under the Republic, it was worn by generals in their triumphs, and by the Praetor Urbanus when he rode in the chariot of the Gods into the circus at the Ludi Apollinares. During the Empire, the toga picta was worn by magistrates giving public gladiatorial games, and by the consuls, as well as by the emperor on special occasions.
- Toga trabea: According to Servius, there were three different kinds of trabea: one of purple only, for the gods; another of purple and a little white, for kings; and a third, with scarlet stripes and a purple hem, for augurs and Salii. Dionysius of Halicarnassus says that those of equestrian class wore it as well, but this is not borne out by other evidence.
Toga’s today have taken an obvious turn towards pop culture with toga parties. In many cases modern adaptations are far less intricate and modest as the typical toga. It’s in fact highly ironic that they’ve come to be worn most frequently by college students at toga parties, where their history is directly associated with nobility.
Other facts about Togas:
- Although togas were the dress of nobility in Rome, women who wore togas were often considered prostitutes.
- Togas are not sewn or fastened in any way, but were cleverly folded to stay up.
- Togas were often desired to be more white to look clean, so they were died with fuller’s chalk to get the white look.
- High ranking political figures wore a toga with a broad maroon stripe. Eventually emperor’s ended up wearing all maroon togas, in favor over the plain white “manly” toga, in order to stand out.
If we had some good photos from the period, we’d put them up. Unfortunately ancient technologies didn’t permit us to get our paws on them. Modern interpretations are seen to be highly accurate by historians, however. Now, you’re in the know. Toga party anyone?