published on 18 January 2012
The toga is the definitive representation of the Ancient Roman. It is depicted in Ancient and Renaissance art, and various styles of the toga have lasted throughout the generations. Togas were important social representations, denoting power, occupation, and social place of upper class Roman citizens.
Coming from the Etruscans, and modified throughout the years, the toga was worn exclusively by prominent Roman men through the period of the Republic and the early Empire, though not always happily. The large white woolen piece of fabric was carefully folded and draped on the body, in order to produce a garment that represented a specific type of Roman.
Togas were heavy and hard to move in, and did not lend themselves to the active Roman. But, they were required to be worn by all citizens for formal public events like weddings, feasts, or the gladiatorial games. So cumbersome were the togas that slaves trained specifically in the art of toga construction would have been in the employ of higher class men, so that they could dress them well. The cumbersome nature of the toga eventually gave way to common sense, and fell out of favor with citizens, much to the chagrin of the Emperors.
There were several types of togas worn throughout the years. They came in different colors, which was important in the toga, as in all other Roman garments. The togas would have immediately discerned the wearer as a politician, in mourning, or as victorious.
Toga virilis – made of undyed wool, this toga was off-white in color and was the “everyday” toga for an adult male citizen.
Toga praetexta – Also off-white in color, this toga featured a wide purple border that denoted the wearer was a Senator or some type of Magistrate, such as an aedile or consul Stripes of varying width would have indicated the specific government position.
Toga pulla – this toga was a dark gray or brown garment that was reserved for periods of mourning.
Toga candida – A toga for political candidates, its bright white-dyed color symbolized the candidate’s purity and honesty.
Toga picta – this special toga was dyed purple (the color of royalty), and featured elaborate gold embroidery. It was worn by victorious generals during triumphal processions, and later by Emperors for official state events.
Togas were obviously not very comfortable, and were probably caused the wearer great suffering in the hot summer months. However, given the Ancient Romans’ fondness for symbolism and representations of their great power, wearing a toga, and the suffering that went along with it, was likely another way to display an important Roman citizen’s strength, virility, and allegiance to his Empire.