Equivalent to the toga worn by men, the stola was a basic garment worn by married women in ancient Rome. A long, typically sleeveless gown, the stola was often layered with other garments. Sewing needles in this era were quite thick and unwieldy, so stitching was kept to a minimum on garments; most clothing was held together with clasps. On the stola, small clasps at the shoulders called fibulae held the garment in place, while two different belts were fastened below the breasts and around the waist.
Colors ranged from bleached white to red, and some stolas had a band of color or a pattern at the hem and at the neckline. Women often wore a long shawl-like garment called a palla over the stola. Although the stola was similar to the toga worn by men, it was considered disgraceful for women to wear a toga. Women who did so were thought to be prostitutes – only wearing togas to advertise their trade on the streets.
Not only was the stola a sign that the woman wearing it was married – single and divorced women were forbidden to wear the garment – but it also served as a sign of a woman’s status in society. While originally most women’s clothing was made from undyed wools or linens, the rise of the Roman Empire inspired more lavish garments. Wealthier women might have owned a stola made of silk, while poorer women would have stuck with simpler fabrics that could carry them from one season to the next.
Hairstyles and accessories also kept pace with the evolving society. While simple during the republic and early empire, hairstyles gave way to more elaborate curls, waves, jeweled hairpins, and hairnets of gold or silver for the Roman empresses. These styles required the assistance of a personal hairdresser and therefore were another indication of wealth. Likewise, the fibulae used to hold garments in place ranged from simple to ornate. Wealthy Roman women might have accessorized with fastenings made with precious metals.
Inspired by the clothing of ancient Greece, the stola stood the test of time in ancient Rome, changing little from one century to the next. Statues of women dating back to the Roman Republic and through those of the Roman Empire in the first millennium were carved wearing the pleated garment. It is also the garment worn by the Statue of Liberty in New York City.