A toga is a one-piece garment that has become closely associated with Ancient Rome, where it was the official state garment and a symbol of Roman culture. In fact, the garment was developed by native people who lived in the region before the Romans, and it was worn extensively in the Etruscan period and by the Greeks. Despite the fact that numerous depictions of togas can be found in Roman art, there is some dispute about how they were worn in different periods of Roman history.
The garment was oval to semi-circular in shape, and made from heavy wool. It was draped over the body in a style that varied, depending on the period. During the height of Roman culture, togas were intricately folded in a way that made it almost impossible to move, and the item of clothing came to be associated with court appearances, formal events, and the Roman upperclasses. While togas were originally worn by both men and women, they eventually came to be worn exclusively by men, with women donning a different garment called the stola.
Typically, the toga was worn over a tunic. Many Romans worked in their tunics, only putting on a toga when guests appeared or they had to go out in public. It was more than just an overgarment: it was also a symbol of Roman citizenship. Only full citizens could wear one, with slaves and exiles adopting other garments. Togas became a source of pride and honor for their wearers as a result.
Although many people seem to think that togas were simply made from white or unbleached wool, they actually came in a range of styles. The toga pulla, a dark toga, was worn as a sign of mourning, and sometimes as a sign of protest, as well. Young men wore ones with stripes, while candidates for public office sported a sparkling white toga candida. They could also be richly embroidered and ornamented.
Many versions can be seen in works of Roman art on display in museums. Sharp-eyed observers may be able to note variations on style and draping in different periods of Roman history. Alas, differences in style between social classes have not been as well preserved, since lower-class Romans were not usually depicted in paintings and carvings.
This garment has been adopted in the “toga parties” held by some college fraternities and other organizations. The versions of the garment worn by party attendees are quite different from the original Roman version, however, being more lightweight and generally more revealing.