The toga was originally an Etruscan variation of the Greek himation, being inherited from the early years of the Roman era, before the Republic, when the Latins (as they are known ethnicly) were under the rule of Etruscan kings. The Etruscans invented the toga by cutting off two of the himation's corners, so it would be long enough to stay in place, while reducing weight. This trapezoidal design was later modified by the Romans to become the semicircular design it is known as now. The toga was originally a military uniform, and thus it was restricted to Roman citizens; citizenship originally depended on one's service in the military.

Over time the toga grew in size. At one point, a double version was developed, which was basically a circle folded into a semicircle and then draped about the body. In this version, a special fold would be created, called the sinus, and would act like the modern pocket. As the toga grew in size, it was less and less used in day-to-day affairs, eventually being restricted to special occasions or ceremonies.

In the early Republic, the toga ceased to be a purely military garment and became the apparel of the common citizen. The toga grew to its largest size during the times of the Antonines, while in the late empire, it shrank into a form that was somewhat like a cape worn only by the Consuls, and then only when giving the starting signal for chariot races.

Types of Togae:
  • Toga Praetexta: This toga was worn by Roman schoolboys for most of their life as a child and young adult (until about 16) as well as Roman magistrates. It has a generally off-white color, except on the borders, where there is a purple stripe.
  • Toga Virilis (also, Toga Pura): Given to Roman boys during the festival Liberalia, or the coming of age ceremony. This was worn by most adult men as a garment for special occasions. It was the same off-white color as the toga praetexta, but had no distinguishing marks like the toga praetexta's purple stripe.
  • Toga Sordida: When a toga virilis was not kept up and got dirty, it was considered a toga sordida. Because of the uncleanness of them, generally only poor people wore them. The title of the group of people who wore togae sordidae is sordidati.
  • Toga Pulla: Worn by people who were mourning. Black sheep, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes, and the black wool pulled from those poor sheep are what make up this toga. It has a black color, symbolizing the recent death.
  • Toga Candida: When a Roman was trying to get himself elected, he didn't have TV or radio, so he needed some other way to get himself noticed. So he took a toga virilis in good shape and chalked it to a very nice, bright white. This is where the English word "candidate" comes from.
  • Toga Picta (also, Toga Palmata): This was worn by a victorious general during a triumph, or parade honoring him. It was purple all with golden embroidery lacing it.

From perceived simplicity comes beautiful complication.

For me that sums up the toga. A piece of simple cloth borrowed from another culture then taken for their own, a national dress, to the point that to say the word Roman and the image that generally springs to mind is a male swathed in the folds of a toga looking regal.

The design of the standard toga is a simple elliptical shape, woven from wool or linen, even cotton or silk if you were rich enough. There the simplicity ends. The wearing of the toga is a mixture of delicate draping, ingenious wrapping and a flair for wearing a cumbersome amount of fabric. The Romans did not pin their togas and still managed to participate in everyday life without them falling off. (Unless it was needful.) Admittedly it was a style of clothing that was generally worn by the wealthy (you had to be a citizen) so their lifestyle would have made it easier to wear.

How to make a toga.

The toga changed shape and size a lot during the course of the Roman Empire so I have chosen the most recognisable design that I feel most people are familiar with, The Toga Praetexta. It is quite easy to construct and drapes well when worn correctly.

How much fabric do I need?

To make the standard elliptical, a slightly stretched semi-circle, toga you need a large amount of fabric. The amount is dependant on your height.

Expressed in plain English;

The dimensions of the toga are worked out by the width at the widest point being your full height and the length is approximately three to four times your height.

Or expressed as a mathematical equation:

π x h x h approx= 3.14 h2

Or expressed in Australian:

Bigger than God’s underpants.

Now this should give you an idea of how much fabric you will need. (Hopefully.)


At this point I will stress, a sheet does not work as a toga! Unless you are happy looking like an unmade bed, or are too poor, or don't care about the beauty of a properly made toga. To be blunt, there is not enough fabric and it is the wrong shape and looks silly.

At the fabric buying place

The Romans made their togas from wool or linen. Unless you are trying to be very authentic or you wish to wear your toga and not have to hand wash and iron the damn thing, I would advise against this. The best fabric would be a medium weight cotton or cotton blend. Too light and it will flap and wrap itself around your legs. Too heavy and you will drown under the weight. Something like a light-weight denim/twill or suchlike will be good.

I found the best place to find the right type of fabric was at the furnishing counter in the fabric store. Even a furnishing specialist should be able to help. The reason for this is that furnishing fabric for curtains and upholstery tends to come in wider widths than dress fabrics. Most dress fabrics come in 115cm and 150 cm widths whereas furnishing can come in 200 and 250cm widths.

Traditionally the toga was white or off-white, with black or sombre colours worn for mourning. (See the above write-up for the various types.) The trim of a toga praetexta was traditionally purple but I don’t think there is anything wrong with adding a little different colour. It was traditionally about 3 inches wide.

If you wish to have a coloured band it is probably cheaper to buy some plain cotton or poly cotton in the preferred colour and strip it and join it rather than use ribbon. If you want the expensive of buying ribbon go for it.

When you get it home.

The first thing you should do is wash your fabric. Separately, of course, as you don't want to look like a tie-dyed hippie. The reason for washing your fabric is to shrink it before sewing, so wash it on the hottest setting your machine has. It is important to do this for the material or ribbon you have chosen for the trim as well as the main toga fabric. This means when you spill red wine down your front you can wash the toga without fear of the coloured band running into the pristine whiteness nor it shrinking and causing unsightly puckering. I would also suggest running the fabric through a hot dryer if you are inclined to use one to ensure completely shrink free fabric.

Cutting out the pattern.

This bit could be a tad frustrating but stick with it. You want to join your fabric up to make a rectangle. The longest edge of this rectangle needs to be 3 – 4 times your height. It need not be a complete rectangle but at the half way point it should be as wide as you are tall. Taking care to join the selvages* together along the longest section should help with hemming later on. So mark your half way point on you fabric like the bad diagram below. Starting from the lowest/deepest point begin to mark out a curve using tailors chalk.

Figure 1

  /                                                        \
 /                                                          \
 --------------------your height * 3 to 4--------------------
 \                                                          /
  \                                                        /
 |.                           |                             .|
 | .                          |                            . |
 |   .                        |                          .   |
 |     .                      |                        .     |
 |       .                    |                      .       |
 |         .                  |  1/2               .         |
 |           .                |                  .           |
 |             .              |               .              |
 |               .            |            .                 |
 |                  .         |         .                    |
 |                      .   \ | /   .                        |

The curve should not be a semi circle but a sort of stretched out semi-circle, an elliptical shape with noticeable tapering into subtle points. Does that make sense? Possibly not so I will attempt a diagram.

              ---  F       |*****                                               
               |           | ********                                           
               |           |     *******                                        
               |           |         *****                                      
               |           |            ****                                    
             182 cm        |              ****                                  
               |           |                ****                                
               |           |                  ****                              
               |           |                    ****                            
               |           |                      ***                           
               |           |                       ***                          
               |           |                        ****                        
               |           |                          ***                       
               |           |                           ***                      
                           |                            ***                     
               |           |                             **                     
               |           |                             ***                    
              ---  E       |                              ***                   
               |           |                               **                   
               |           |                               ***                  
               |           |                                **                  
             60 cm         |                                ***                 
               |           |                                 **                 
               |           |                                 **                 
              ---  D       |                                 ***                
               |           |                                  **                
               |           |           182 cm                 **                
           121 cm          |                                  **                
               |           |--------------------------------  **                
               |           |                                  **                
               |   C       |                                 ***                
               |           |                                 **                 
               |           |                                 **                 
               |           |                                 **                 
               |           |                                **                  
               |           |                                **                  
              ---  B       |                               ***                  
               |           |                              ***                   
               |           |                              **                    
               |           |                             ***                    
               |           |                            ***                     
               |           |                           ***                      
               |           |                          ***                       
               |           |                         ***                        
               |           |                       ****                         
               |           |                      ***                           
             182 cm        |                    ****                            
               |           |                   ****                             
               |           |                 ****                               
               |           |               ****                                 
               |           |            *****                                   
               |           |         ******                                     
               |           |       *****                                        
               |           |   *******                                          
              ---  A       |******                                              

Figure 2
182 cm = 6ft
121 cm = 4ft
60cm = 2ft
(This diagram is working on a scale for a six foot person; it is easy to for convert as it is using thirds of the base measurement.)


Once you have a shape that you are happy with, using a pair of sharp scissors cut out your shape. If you know how to hem a garment you can skip this explanation.

This section requires the following equipment an iron and ironing board, dress maker pins and a ruler or tape measure. Using the iron the press down the fold turn over all raw edges approximately one centimetre, using pins to hold down the fold. Once you have completed this, repeat the process so that the raw edge is hidden in the fold. I recommend a hem of one cm or less as a curve is difficult to hem at the best of times and a smaller hem is much easier to manage. Do use plenty of pins. As you pin down and press the hem make sure you place the pin at a right angle to the edge of the fabric. This will mean that when you come to sew you will be able to sew over the pin with minimal chance of the sewing needle breaking.


The concept of sewing this by hand is one that makes my ears bleed, but I am sure a neat herringbone stitch would work. Other than that I would haul out the sewing machine and sew with a standard straight stitch length of 3 to four millimetres, about 75 millimetres from the edge using a matching thread. Having said that, I have some other advice with the sewing of you toga. Given the ridiculous amounts of fabric that are involved with this project set up your sewing machine on a large table, or as I did in an L-shape configuration of two tables, and draft in an extra pair a pair of extra hands to help with the feeding through of the fabric.


Ok, so you have chosen to trim your toga with something fitting and you have joined and hemmed the trim into one continuous strip. Now there is two ways you can go about the application of the trim. You can place it along the straight edge, the historians can agree on this much. They can not agree on if the trim went around the curve, but I can tell it looks good around the curve.

Pin the trim onto the toga using the same pinning method we used on the hem of the toga. Start by laying the toga flat and pinning the trim along the straight edge using a tape measure to keep it the same distance from the edge of the toga. Now once you have done this you can contemplate trimming the curve. This section is possibly the hardest bit. The best way is to not cry too much. If you pull on one edge, the outside of the curve, it will stretch it slightly. Then start in one corner and gently lay down the trim. Tugging on the outer edge and creating little tucks or folds on the inner edge if need be. Don’t forget to keep measuring edge to edge to keep it even.

Once you have cried, sworn and finally got the trim looking professional it is time to sew the damn thing on. You can hand stitch it on using a basic slip hemming stitch or warm up the sewing machine. My suggestion is that the thread in bobbin of the machine matches the toga and top thread matches the trim. Oh, and take your time, it can be a little frustrating but as long as you have used a reasonable amount pins, you should be okay.

Completing the outfit.

So, you have a funky toga: what to wear it with? Bearing in mind a couple of things, if you are a female and you are going to wear a toga and there are people that know a thing or two make sure you are ready to explain you dressed from the beginning of the Republic (7C and 6C, BCE). Later on in the Empire the toga was an elite male garment and only worn by prostitutes. (See you had to be told.)

Underneath your toga you can wear a t-shirt or make a tunica to go underneath, the Romans would have never gone out with bare shoulders. A tunic is easy to make, two squares stitched together with holes for your head and arms. Clinch it with a belt (there are some styles that require you tuck some of the toga into a belt but you can get away without it. Mind you it does mean it can come off quite easily). The Romans wore loin cloths but you can wear normal underwear or if brave go commando. Top it off with sandals. But of course there you are with your toga and all ready to head off to a party as the all conquering hero ready to pour scorn onto the sheet wearing peasants and you have no idea how to put it on.

How to put on a toga.

You may have to enlist some help at this point, the draping is surprisingly difficult but looks brilliant. A wealthy Roman would have a slave to put on a toga for them, these experts could put a toga on a citizen in a matter of minutes instead of hours.¹

Using figure 2 and quoting from Costume and Fashion.

“The toga was draped on the figure by starting with point A at the left foot; the straight edge was taken over the left shoulder and arm, B. It was then passed across passed across the back, and hung loose under the right arm, D, across the chest, over the right shoulder and arm again, E, with the remaining portion hanging down the back, finishing at point F.

Having arranged the toga as described, it will be found that the straight at D under the right arm can be made, by turning it over, to form a second piece of curved drapery over the right upper leg. This is called the sinus. Also if the straight edge of the first portion (which passes over the left shoulder at B)is pulled out, and pouched over the top part which also crosses the left shoulder, the draped effect is obtained. This part, called the umbo, was often used to envelope the right hand. The loose portion C at the back of the right shoulder was often drawn up over the shoulder and attached to the belt at the waist, so as to form sort of a sleeve. It was also the custom to utilise this loose portion C alternatively as a head covering; and it was in use for this purpose during all religious ceremonies – it also served as protection from bad weather.” ²

Okay, I will admit it is a little hard to follow but it is the best description I have come across. A little searching via the google guru comes up with some very nice descriptions and illustrations. (Links in the sources section.)

So, after the blood, sweat and tears you have a great toga that you can wear and generally have a lot of fun with. Enjoy.

*Selvage the edge of the fabric that is woven so will not fray.
¹ The_Debutante and her historical knowledge.
² Costume and Fashion, The Evolution of European dress through the earlier ages, Herbert Norris, 1924, JM Dent & Sons. – great illustrations on how to put one on.
Costume of the Classical world, Marion Sichel, 1980, 0713415118
Information on sewing the toga comes from my own experience, An image of one of my togas.
Thank you to wntrmute for providing the mathematical area equation and StrawberryFrog for his help with the ascii art and The_Debutante for poking me to finish it.

To"ga (?), n.; pl. E. Togas (#), L. Togae (#). [L., akin to tegere to cover. See Thatch.] Rom. Antiq.

The loose outer garment worn by the ancient Romans, consisting of a single broad piece of woolen cloth of a shape approaching a semicircle. It was of undyed wool, except the border of the toga praetexta.

Toga praetexta. [L.], a toga with a broad purple border, worn by children of both sexes, by magistrates, and by persons engaged in sacred rites. -- Toga virilis [L.], the manly gown; the common toga. This was assumed by Roman boys about the time of completing their fourteenth year.


© Webster 1913.

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