The 6 Types of Togas Worn in Ancient Rome

The color and decoration on Roman togas indicated status and position

Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, York Minster
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The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus referred to his own Roman citizenry as the toga-clad people—and with reason. While the basic style of a toga—a shawl draped over the shoulder—was worn by the ancient Etruscans and, later, the Greeks, the toga went through several changes before finally becoming the classic Roman item of clothing.

What Is a Toga?

A Roman toga, simply described, is a long piece of fabric draped over the shoulders in one of several ways. It was usually worn over some kind of tunic or other undergarments, and it might be pinned in place by a fibula, a Roman brooch shaped very much like a modern safety pin. if the toga was decorated at all, the decoration had some symbolic connotations and the toga was arranged to make sure that the design was clearly visible to other people.

The toga was an article of clothing that had stately symbolism, and according to the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BCE), it was the earliest dress of both Roman men and women. It can be seen on statues and paintings from as early as 753 BCE, during the earliest years of the Roman Republic. It was common until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. But togas worn in the earlier years were quite different from those worn at the end of Roman times.

Changes in Style

The earliest Roman togas were simple and easy to wear. They consisted of small ovals of wool worn over a tunic-like shirt. Virtually everyone in Rome wore a toga, with the exception of servants and slaves. Over time it grew in size from just over 12 feet (3.7 meters) to 15–18 ft (4.8–5 m). As a result, the semicircular cloth grew more and more cumbersome, difficult to put on, and just about impossible to work in. Typically, one arm was covered with fabric while the other was needed to hold the toga in place; in addition, the woolen fabric was heavy and hot.

During the time of Roman rule until about 200 CE, the toga was worn for many occasions. Variations in style and decoration were used to identify people with different positions and social status. Over the years, however, the impracticality of the garment finally led to its end as a piece of daily wear.

Six Types of Roman Togas

There are six main types of Roman togas, based on their coloration and design, each representing a specific status in Roman society.

  1. Toga Pura: Any citizen of Rome might wear the toga pura, a toga made of natural, undyed, whitish wool.
  2. Toga Praetexta: If a Roman were a magistrate or a freeborn youth, he might wear a toga with a woven reddish-purple border known as a toga praetexta. Freeborn girls may have worn these as well. At the end of adolescence, a free male citizen put on the white toga virilis or toga pura.
  3. Toga Pulla: If the Roman citizen were in mourning, he would wear a darkened toga known as a toga pulla.
  4. Toga Candida: If a Roman became a candidate for office, he made his toga pura whiter than normal by rubbing it with chalk. It was then called toga candida, which is where we get the word "candidate."
  5. Toga Trabea: There was also a toga reserved for elite individuals that had a stripe of purple or saffron, called a toga trabea. Augurs—religious specialists who watched and interpreted the meanings of natural signs—wore a toga trabea with saffron and purple stripes. The purple and white striped toga trabea was worn by Romulus and other consuls officiating at important ceremonies. Sometimes the property-owning equite class of Roman citizen wore a toga trabea with a narrow purple stripe.
  1. Toga Picta: Generals in their triumphs wore toga picta or togas with designs on them, decorated with gold embroidery or appearing in solid colors. The toga picta was worn by praetors celebrating games and by consuls at the time of the emperors. The imperial toga picta worn by the emperor was dyed a solid purple—truly a "royal purple."