Themed parties are all the rage right now and a toga party is one of the best! This doesn’t mean that you can throw a sheet over your semi-naked body and a laurel reef on your head – far from it (although you could!). A true toga costume takes more imagination and attention to detail, but do you know how?
No worries! We will tell you what to wear to a toga party, how to make a toga, how to tie a toga so it doesn’t fall off and even give you suggestions for fabulous women’s toga costumes. First, however, let’s take a chariot ride through the history of togas!
What’s the history of togas?
Worn in ancient Rome, the toga was a large heavy outer garment that was very symbolic to the Romans. It was originally worn by both men and women and was a daily form of dress, but was later only worn by men on formal occasions to indicate their status.
The type of toga we are familiar with today was a long semicircular piece of material, three times the height of the wearer, worn over a tunic and arranged in a specific way to flow over the shoulder and draped over the arm (perfect for a toga party!). The toga was actually so important to the status of Roman citizens that it was forbidden for foreigners or slaves to wear them, as well as anyone who had been exiled from Rome.
At any one time, there were many different togas, most designed to promote an individual’s social standing. Over the years, however, and until the end of the Roman Empire, the style of togas changed from a simple piece of cloth draped over the shoulder and tunic to an extremely long and unwieldy item that was so cumbersome that it left citizens with only one arm to use! Eventually, the toga went out of fashion, but it lasted for centuries in one form or another.
What to wear to a toga party
Now you know that throwing a sheet over your shoulder isn’t going to cut it to your next toga party, here are five different types Roman togas that you can put together, each representing a different status in Roman society.
- Toga Pulla: Only worn during periods of mourning, the Toga Pulla was made from a dark grey, black or brown material.
- Toga Praetexta: Apparently based on the earlier toga style garments worn by the Etruscans of Italy (much of their culture was adopted by the Romans), the Toga Praetexta was an off-white colour with a broad purple border that was worn by senators and magistrates. The different widths of this border would have indicated the person’s specific position.
- Toga Candida: Worn by political candidates, this bright white toga was meant to symbolise the candidate’s honesty and purity.
- Toga Palmata: Only worn by conquering generals during their triumphant processions through Rome, it was later restricted only to emperors of Rome.
- Toga Picta: Dyed completely purple, the Toga Picta was embroidered with golden thread and was also originally worn by triumphant generals, but as with the Toga Palmata, it was later restricted to emperors.
Women’s toga costumes
Whilst women in early Roman times did wear the traditional togas, after a few centuries it became scandalous for them to wear these garments, and they were reserved only for men. Instead, married women’s toga costumes reverted to what we call a ‘stola’, which is a long dress worn over a tunic. Divorced adulterous women were not allowed to wear the stola, because these were only worn by respectable and virtuous women!
The underlying tunics were made from a woven fabric and later from linen, and were in their simplest form an ankle-length, long-sleeved tubular shape that was pinned around the shoulders and could be worn loose or belted. These tunics could also be very luxurious, made from fine materials with precise detailing.
Over the stola, many women wore a palla (they could also be worn by women who were not married over a tunic), a long rectangular shawl (often up to 11 feet long and five feet wide), and draped over the left shoulder, under the right arm and then over the left arm – not very practical, but it emulated the men’s togas. The palla could be used to shade a lady’s face from the sun or rain and the more folds in the palla, the wealthier the woman.
How to make a toga
If you have been wondering how to make a toga – let’s go! At its most basic, all you need is a very long (about five to six metres in length) and wide piece of plain white fabric that can be draped over your shoulder and arm (a white sheet does do the job, but a piece of fabric shows more class!). For your toga costume, begin by folding the fabric in half lengthwise, wrap it once or twice around your waist, pin it to keep it in place, and drape the rest over your shoulder in folds.
If it’s warm weather you can most probably get away with wearing white shorts and t-shirt under your toga, but if you want to go the whole way and be true to the Roman Empire, wear a tunic as well! You could easily put together a tunic by wrapping yourself in a yard’s width of material and keeping it together with a big pin, then draping yourself in the toga.
How to tie a toga
Still want more ideas on how to tie a toga? There are a few different ways you can go about it, but here are two other options that might suit. Option 1: After folding the material lengthwise, drop one end over your shoulder down to your waist, pull the remaining fabric around your back to your front a few times and then toss the remaining fabric over the same shoulder and secure it with a large pin. Option 2: Drape one end of the folded material over your shoulder from the front down to your bottom, wrap the remaining sheet around your body and tuck the final end over and under the piece, you draped over your shoulder, so that it’s fixed at your chest. You can pin it in place again.