The toga, a distinctive garment of Ancient Rome, was a sash of perhaps twenty feet (6 meters) in length which was wrapped around the body and was generally worn over a tunic. The toga was invariably made of wool, and the tunic under it was often made of linen. For most of Rome's history, the toga was a garment worn exclusively by men, while women wore the stola. Non-citizens were forbidden to wear the toga.
The toga was based on a formal dress robe used by the Etruscans
, even though it is usually linked with the Romans. The toga was the dress clothing of the Romans; a thick woollen cloak worn over a loincloth
. It is believed to have been established around the time of Numa Pompillius, the second King of Rome. It was taken off indoors, or when hard at work in the fields, but it was considered the only decent attire out-of-doors. This is evident from the story of Cincinnatus
: he was ploughing in his field when the messengers of the Senate
came to tell him that he had been made dictator
, and on seeing them he sent his wife to fetch his toga from the house so that they could be received appropriately. While the truth of the story may be doubtful, but it nevertheless expresses the Roman sentiment on the subject.
As time went on, dress styles changed. Romans adopted the shirt (tunica, or in Greek chiton) which the Greeks and Etruscans wore, made the toga more bulky, and wore it in a looser manner. The result was that it became useless for active pursuits, such as those of war. Thus, its place was taken by the handier sagum (woolen cloak) on all military occasions. In times of peace, too, the toga was eventually superseded by the laena, lacerna, paenula, and other forms of buttoned or closed cloaks. However, the toga did remain the court dress of the Empire.
The same process that removed the toga from every-day life gave it an increased importance as a ceremonial garment, as is often the case with clothing. As early as the fifth century B.C., and probably even before, the toga (along with the calceus) was looked upon as the characteristic badge of Roman citizenship. It was denied to foreigners, and even to banished Romans, and it was worn by magistrates on all occasions as a badge of office. In fact, for a magistrate to appear in a Greek cloak (pallium) and sandals was considered by all, except unconventional folk, as highly improper, if not criminal. Augustus, for instance, was so much incensed at seeing a meeting of citizens without the toga, that, quoting Virgil's proud lines, "Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam" ("Romans, lords of the world, the toga-wearing race"), he gave orders to the aediles that in the future no one was to appear in the Forum or Circus without it.
Because the toga was not worn by soldiers, it was regarded as a sign of peace. A civilian was sometimes called togatus, "toga-wearer", in contrast to sagum-wearing soldiers. Cicero's De Officiis contains the phrase cedant arma togae: literally, "let arms yield to the toga", meaning "may peace replace war", or "may military power yield to civilian power."
There were many kinds of togae, each used differently.
- Toga virilis (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, but it could be any stage in their teens.
- 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 etymologic source of the word candidate.
- Toga praetexta: An ordinary white toga with a broad purple stripe on its border. It was worn by:
- 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.
In several countries, the tradition of the toga party has become popular in recent decades, generally at colleges and universities, perhaps best illustrated in (if not inspired by) the film Animal House.
This practice trades on the exaggerated legend of Roman debauchery, and participants dress in togas, which are usually makeshift garments fashioned from bed linen. As such, these "togas" bear little resemblance to the Ancient Roman garment, being both flimsier and scantier.