Ancient World, Antiquities, Getty Villa

How to Wear a Toga the Ancient Roman Way

In ancient Rome, togas were no laughing matter. They were the fashion must-have for all male citizens, but men hated them: they were heavy, made your left arm as useful as a T. Rex’s, and required a team of highly trained slaves to put on and take off. Also, they were made of wool, which was great for preventing dreaded slippage, but not so great for Mediterranean summers in the pre-antiperspirant era.

On the plus side, togas look make you look dignified and imperial, especially when you’re strolling about a Roman estate—the Getty Villa, say. That’s why we’re encouraging students to wear their own home-brewed versions for College Night at the Villa next Tuesday, November 15. And you won’t have to suffer for fashion: in the video above, education specialist Shelby Brown gives you some tidbits on the history of the toga and shows you (at 2:38) how to wrap yourself comfortably and on the cheap using a twin or full-size sheet.

For advanced toga study, including historical variants, controversies, and primary sources, check out this essay from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; and to round out your ensemble with the appropriate undergarments, footwear, and jewelry, see this article on Roman dress.

Thanks to our impressive toga model Guy Wheatley. Look for him strutting his poly-blend toga on Tuesday night!

Guy Wheatley modeling a toga in the galleries of the Getty Villa

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12 Comments

  1. Chris Wheatley
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Did the Romans wear t-shirts under their togas?

  2. Annelisa
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Hi Chris — In a way, yes! They wore short-sleeve tunics, made of wool like the togas themselves. Some tunics were plain off-white, while others had dark crimson stripes. They definitely didn’t wear salmon-colored button-down shirts as in the video…that was some artistic license on our part.

  3. Janice Espinoza
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    WOW! You say only prostitutes wore them and then men. Does that mean all men prostitutes?

  4. Annelisa
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Janice! Prostitutes did wear them, but so did male citizens (an elite class). Rome was a very status-conscious society, and the etiquette of toga-wearing changed over time. “Respectable” women wore togas in Rome’s early days, but by the Republican era, the only women who wore togas were prostitutes. The article we linked to above has lots of juicy details on the subject. Here’s my favorite sentence: “While the toga was a mark of honor for a man, it was a mark of disgrace for a woman.”

  5. JACKIE NGUYEN
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    when the “Respectable” women wore togas in Rome’s early days, did they feel disgrace? Is that why they don’t wear togas anymore?

    • Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jackie. I don’t think so; it seems to have been one of those gradual shifts that takes place in fashion. Roman women wore tunics, and married women wore a shawl-like garment on top called the stola, which over time came to replace the toga. So now that respectable ladies (i.e., married ones) no longer wore togas, it seems like the garment got a bad rap.

  6. clint
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    So, where can one find the pattern for a toga if one doesn’t want to use a sheet?

  7. David
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Did ghandi wear a toga?

    • Annelisa Stephan
      Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Hi David, That’s an interesting question. Not exactly. He wore a dhoti, a traditional Indian garment that is actually quite similar to a toga. For what it’s worth, Hindi and Latin are both Indo-European languages so I checked to see if there might be a common etymology. It doesn’t look like it, though. Toga is from Latin tegere, to cover, while dhoti has a different Sanskrit root. That’s probably more than you wanted to know!

      If you google “How to wear a dhoti,” you’ll find some how-to videos.

  8. Kyoko
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    What is the difference between what ancient greeks wore and what ancient romans wore?

    • Annelisa Stephan
      Posted May 27, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kyoko, Greek men wore a toga-like garment called the chlamys. But how toga-like was it, exactly? This excellent page from Alan Kennington addresses the issue head-on:

      There is no such thing as a “Greek toga”. The toga was worn only by Roman citizens. It identified Romans as Romans. An ancient Greek wearing the Roman toga would have been as incongruous as a Masai tribesman wearing a top hat and tails while herding cows in Kenya, or an Eskimo wearing a tuxedo while hunting seals. Let me put it another way. The ancient Greeks despised luxury. The ancient Romans were addicted to luxury. Greek males were proud of their bodies and admired good bodies of others. The Romans preferred to cover themselves in layers of clothing because they admired good clothes rather than good bodies, but even the Romans thought the toga was a fiddly nuisance. So it was unthinkable for ancient Greeks to wear it.

      Here is another good resource, a short article from the Metropolitan Museum on ancient Greek dress.

3 Trackbacks

  • By Miscellanea « The House of Vines on November 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    [...] Stephan of the Getty discusses how to wear a toga the proper Roman way: In ancient Rome, togas were no laughing matter. They were [...]

  • By L’Actualité de l’Antiquité / 3 | Insula on November 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    [...] aux figurants : Shelby Brown nous montre en vidéo comment porter la toge. C’est sur le site Getty.edu. Côté Gaulois, on apprend dans Le Courrier Picard que Ludovic Moignet quitte la direction des [...]

  • By Felt — Kaplak.net on December 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    [...] Another legend attributes the discovery of wool to Pope Clement I. Also known as Saint Clement, the fourth pope had blister-prone feet and stuffed wool into his shoes for extra padding. The combination of sweat and compression made felt. Enthralled by the new material, he and his monks set-up a feltmaking workshop in Rome. Earlier and more concrete evidence of the making and use of felt dates to ancient fresco painting in Pompeii, where images of quactiliarii (feltmakers) have been found decorating the walls of homes and shops. It is possible that these fabricators dressed marble sculptures of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, and Cybele, Earth Mother, in felt robes as an advertisement of their goods. In fact, the supple, silken drapery that we usually imagine in the ancient world are incorrect — the Romans swathed themselves in togas made of heavy wool felt. [...]

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