Despite the overwhelming quantity of Roman togate portraits at every social level, and in every imaginable circumstance, at most times Rome's thoroughfares would have been crowded with citizens and non-citizens in a variety of colourful garments, with few togas in evidence. Only a higher-class Roman, a magistrate, would have had lictors to clear his way, and even then, wearing a toga was a challenge. The toga's apparent natural simplicity and "elegant, flowing lines" were the result of diligent practice and cultivation; to avoid an embarrassing disarrangement of its folds, its wearer had to walk with measured, stately gait, yet with virile purpose and energy. If he moved too slowly, he might seem aimless, "sluggish of mind" - or, worst of all, "womanly". Vout (1996) suggests that the toga's most challenging qualities as garment fitted the Romans' view of themselves and their civilization. Like the empire itself, the peace that the toga came to represent had been earned through the extraordinary and unremitting collective efforts of its citizens, who could therefore claim "the time and dignity to dress in such a way".
Patrons were few, and most had to compete with their peers to attract the best, most useful clients. Clients were many, and those of least interest to the patron had to scrabble for notice among the "togate horde" (turbae togatae). One in a dirty or patched toga would likely be subject to ridicule; or he might, if sufficiently dogged and persistent, secure a pittance of cash, or perhaps a dinner. When the patron left his house to conduct his business of the day at the law courts, forum or wherever else, escorted (if a magistrate) by his togate lictors, his clients must form his retinue. Each togate client represented a potential vote: to impress his peers and inferiors, and stay ahead in the game, a patron should have as many high-quality clients as possible; or at least, he should seem to. Martial has one patron hire a herd (grex) of fake clients in togas, then pawn his ring to pay for his evening meal.
Roman moralists "placed an ideological premium on the simple and the frugal". Aulus Gellius claimed that the earliest Romans, famously tough, virile and dignified, had worn togas with no undergarment; not even a skimpy tunic. Towards the end of the Republic, the arch-conservative Cato the Younger favoured the shorter, ancient Republican type of toga; it was dark and "scanty" (exigua), and Cato wore it without tunic or shoes; all this would have been recognised as an expression of his moral probity. Die-hard Roman traditionalists deplored an ever-increasing Roman appetite for ostentation, "un-Roman" comfort and luxuries, and sartorial offences such as Celtic trousers, brightly coloured Syrian robes and cloaks. The manly toga itself could signify corruption, if worn too loosely, or worn over a long-sleeved, "effeminate" tunic, or woven too fine and thin, near transparent. Appian's history of Rome finds its strife-torn Late Republic tottering at the edge of chaos; most seem to dress as they like, not as they ought: "For now the Roman people are much mixed with foreigners, there is equal citizenship for freedmen, and slaves dress like their masters. With the exception of the Senators, free citizens and slaves wear the same costume." The Augustan Principate brought peace, and declared its intent as the restoration of true Republican order, morality and tradition.
Until the Marian reforms of 107 BC, the lower ranks of Rome's military forces were "farmer-soldiers", a militia of citizen smallholders conscripted for the duration of hostilities, expected to provide their own arms and armour. Citizens of higher status served in senior military posts as a foundation for their progress to high civil office (see cursus honorum). The Romans believed that in Rome's earliest days, its military had gone to war in togas, hitching them up and back for action by using what became known as the "Gabine cinch". In 206 BC, Scipio Africanus was sent 1,200 togas and 12,000 tunics for his operations in North Africa. As part of a peace settlement of 205 BC, two formerly rebellious Spanish tribes provided Roman troops with togas and heavy cloaks. In the Macedonian campaign of 169 BC, the army was sent 6,000 togas and 30,000 tunics. From at least the mid-Republic on, the military reserved their togas for formal leisure and religious festivals; the tunic and sagum (heavy rectangular cloak held on the shoulder with a brooch) were used or preferred for active duty.
Though soldiers were citizens, Cicero typifies the former as "sagum wearing" and the latter as "togati". He employs the phrase cedant arma togae ("let arms yield to the toga"), meaning "may peace replace war", or "may military power yield to civilian power", in the context of his own uneasy alliance with Pompey. He intended it as metonym, linking his own "power to command" as consul (imperator togatus) with Pompey's as general (imperator armatus); but it was interpreted as a request to step down. Cicero, having lost Pompey's ever-wavering support, was driven to exile. In reality, arms rarely yielded to civilian power. During the early Roman Imperial era, members of the Praetorian Guard (the emperor's personal guard as "First Citizen", and a military force under his personal command), concealed their weapons under white, civilian-style togas when on duty in the city, offering the reassuring illusion that they represented a traditional Republican, civilian authority, rather than the military arm of an Imperial autocracy.
The toga was draped, rather than fastened, around the body, and was held in position by the weight and friction of its fabric. Supposedly, no pins or brooches were employed. The more voluminous and complex the style, the more assistance would have been required to achieve the desired effect. In classical statuary, draped togas consistently show certain features and folds, identified and named in contemporary literature.
The most complex togas appear on high-quality portrait busts and imperial reliefs of the mid-to-late Empire, probably reserved for emperors and the highest civil officials. The so-called "banded" or "stacked" toga (Latinised as toga contabulata) appeared in the late 2nd century AD and was distinguished by its broad, smooth, slab-like panels or swathes of pleated material, more or less correspondent with umbo, sinus and balteus, or applied over the same. On statuary, one swathe of fabric rises from low between the legs, and is laid over the left shoulder; another more or less follows the upper edge of the sinus; yet another follows the lower edge of a more-or-less vestigial balteus then descends to the upper shin. As in other forms, the sinus itself is hung over the crook of the right arm. If its full-length representations are accurate, it would have severely constrained its wearer's movements. Dressing in a toga contabulata would have taken some time, and specialist assistance. When not in use, it required careful storage in some form of press or hanger to keep it in shape. Such inconvenient features of the later toga are confirmed by Tertullian, who preferred the pallium. High-status (consular or senatorial) images from the late 4th century show a further ornate variation, known as the "Broad Eastern Toga"; it hung to the mid-calf, was heavily embroidered, and was worn over two pallium-style undergarments, one of which had full length sleeves. Its sinus was draped over the left arm.
After passing the "big, shiny and sciencey!" period, a highly developed civilization can enter a stage where technology continues to advance, but becomes a lot sleeker and subtler. At the same time, society gets epic. Jumpsuits will start being replaced by togas, robes and such garments, bustling mega-cities by brilliant arcologies. There will be crystals. Lots and lots of crystals. This world of tomorrow may end up looking much like Ancient Greece or Rome (the theme-park Cecil B. de Mille version at least) while still enjoying ultratech comforts.
While there's a definite trend towards giant and architecturally impressive glass towers in the modern era, the trope hasn't quite made it to the status of Truth in Television yet — aside from a conspicuous lack of togas, robes, or unisuits, these shiny new buildings aren't part of the sort of sweeping social movement this Trope describes but individual corporations jockeying to display their wealth.note Of course, this trope would apply if all the individual corporations and members of the population were sufficiently wealthy to live in a Crystal Spires and Togas world; for example in a post-scarcity civilization. Utopian cities they are not; very real slums crowd their feet.
While most togas were white, some, indicative of a person's rank or specific role in the community, were coloured or included a stripe, notably the purple one which indicated the wearer was a member of the Roman Senate. The toga has, thanks to film and literature, become the quintessential male garment of antiquity but the view is not far wrong as even the Romans themselves described themselves as the togati or 'people of the toga.'
The earliest togas were the shortest, some examples measuring around 3.5 metres in length. By the imperial period, togas were an impressive 5.5 metres in length and 2.75 metres at its widest point (19.5 x 10 ft). The essential cut never changed which was always a semicircular shape, although of varying depth over time. As ever with clothing, the rich could afford to wear the finest material and the greatest length while poorer citizens had to make do with a shorter version of less-worked material. Most togas were made from light, untreated wool with the finished garment then brushed and shorn to give it a smooth nap. The Oxford Classical Dictionary gives the following instructions for putting on a toga correctly: 2b1af7f3a8