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That Roman Off-shoulder Look

Autumn is a lovely time for many things: dead plants, dead leaves, and dead people. Yes, autumn is a time for Halloween and with all the talk on Halloween costumes, let’s delve into a crowd favourite: the Roman toga! One key thing to note is that the rulers of Ancient Rome imposed Roman Sumptuary Laws that dictated which type of clothing could be worn by Romans (No crimes against fashion, Roman kiddos!). These laws contributed to the maintenance of a class structure since the clothes worn by an individual provided information about their social status. Great, now that that’s out there, let’s talk about togas (which only Roman citizens were permitted to wear. That means no slaves, and definitely no foreigners. #exclusive)!


Togas 101

First, let’s clarify what an actual Roman toga looks like (and not the modern Halloween ones). An authentic Roman toga is made of a large woollen cloth cut with both rounded and straight edges. It would be draped over the body on top of another basic garment called the tunic, without being sewn or pinned.

Roman_-_Emperor_Wearing_a_Toga_-_Walters_23226(Statue of an emperor wearing a toga)

Ain’t nobody got time for that

One important thing to note is that togas were only used for formal affairs and on informal occasions, most Romans would just wear their tunics. Why? Well, togas were heavy and cumbersome to wear and although the wearer appeared dignified, it would have been difficult to perform tasks with great amount of freedom of movement. (Looking good was quite the burden.) Since it was a feat to put the toga on properly by oneself, some renowned Romans even had slaves who were specially trained to perform such a task!

If you are interested to learn how to wear a toga like an Ancient Roman, check this video out!


Women & Togas

During the early period of the Roman Republic, togas were worn by both sexes. However, in the 2nd century BC, a garment known as the stola was introduced and it was expected to be worn by women. Togas were then worn exclusively by men. Only prostitutes and women who were guilty of adultery were not allowed to wear the stola and instead, they were forced to wear the toga as a form of labelling.

Estatua de LIVIA DRUSILA. Mármol. Primer cuarto del siglo I. Paestum, Campania, Italia. Museo Arqueológico Nacional de España, Madrid.

(A statue of a Roman woman wearing a stola)

Types of Togas

As mentioned earlier, the clothes worn by the Romans served as a form of distinction between the different social classes. Similarly, there were several types of togas that came in different colours and were accompanied by different features. (Ha ha you thought they only had one?)

  • Toga virilis: This was a typical white toga for adult male citizens that was made of undyed wool.
  • Toga praetexta: This was a white toga that had a wide purple border for senators and magistrates. The varying width of the border indicated the specific government position.
  • Toga picta: This was a toga that was dyed purple and had sophisticated gold embroidery. It was for victorious generals and Emperors attending official state events.

Togalife(Example of a toga praetexta)


(Digital sculpture of Roman Emperor Caligula in a Toga Picta)

Besides togas that helped to distinguish Romans occupying different positions, there were also togas for other purposes.

  • Toga candida: This was a toga for political candidates. It had a bright white-dyed colour, to symbolize the candidate’s honesty and purity.
  • Toga pulla: This was a brown or dark gray toga that was used during periods of mourning.


(Example of a toga candida)

The various kinds of togas that existed in Ancient Rome showed how clothes played a functional role in the society. They served as a form of identity and emphasized on the division between commoners and people who held power. This played a role in strengthening the social structure which enabled social norms and values to be reinforced. In our modern world, most of us have the tendency to judge others based on their dressing but for the Ancient Romans, clothes clearly did not have such a superficial connotation. (#whatisstyle)