(Ad)dressing Roman Clothing

Posted by stj3 at Dec 15, 2018 10:30 AM |
Students dress up in togas for module lecture
(Ad)dressing Roman Clothing

Wearing the toga!

Recently students of AH3079 Textiles, Dress and Identity in the Roman World experienced what it was like to dress in a tunic and toga during their lecture on the Roman Wardrobe. This lecture explored some of the different items that Romans potentially wore, and why it is important to be cautious about uncritically approaching ancient dress using the available evidence. This is particularly true of the toga, the item of Roman dress, which ancient visual and literary evidence seems to suggest was worn by all Roman male citizens every day.

However, as became immediately obvious to the students when they tried on the togas in this lecture, while we might think that Roman men wore this item all the time, it is unlikely that this was really the case. This is partly because the toga was cumbersome to wear at 3.5 plus metres in length. The replica togas, one at this size and another at 5 metres, quickly emphasised to the students that a large space and at least two helpers was necessary for folding and draping the toga to get the desired effect – a challenge, even with the aid of a Youtube video (courtesy of the School’s resident expert on ancient dress Dr Mary Harlow) and some written instructions. As can be seen from the photos, however, the students did brilliantly, and it was interesting to see how the body language of those who were wearing the togas changed once in their Roman dress – standing up straighter, with arm raised, their poses implied a readiness for speech-making!

Trying on the togas, then, helped the students understand the resources which were needed to dress in this item, as well as the difficulties involved in both arranging the toga and carrying it on the person. This activity also prompted the students to consider further questions such as ‘how do I walk in this without it falling off?!’ and whether such an item really would have been practicable as an ‘every day’ item of clothing. Trying on the simpler tunic as well demonstrated that there were other, more ‘user-friendly’ items available for the inhabitants of the Roman world to wear daily. Dressing up in togas and tunics was a bit of fun, then, but it also helped students further understand how these items functioned on the body and the need to be cautious (and experimental) in our approaches to ancient dress evidence.

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