The Roman Stola: Part II, Color & Embellishments


Color by Dulcia MacPherson, captions by me.

I recently presented my stola paper at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship as a single entry. You can see a video of my presentation here (20 min talk, 20 min Q&A). Since I know not everyone wants to read a giant tome, I’m going to break up important bits of my paper into a series of blog posts. All the

The stola had four major identifying features:

  • Worn as an overdress
  • Made of lightweight wool
  • Constructed as a simple tube, with straps, round pins, or fabric knots at the shoulders, that created a “V neck” with draping.
  • Worn double belted, to create an extra folded layer at the hips

The stola was popular for about 400 years (mid-Republic to early Empire), and was integral to the Roman matron’s sense of self. It gave its wearer special social and legal protections.

Note: Click here for PART I: Why Wool?,  ,  PART III: Construction, and PART IV: Timing.

PART II: Color and Embellishments

The ancient Romans loved color! They painted their walls, their ceilings, their furniture, and their flags. Their floors were gorgeous (even garish) mosaics. They adored colored gemstones, and used rouge, eyeshadow, and lipstick. Dyes for clothing were used whenever they could be afforded. That said, the ancient world looked different from a modern mall.




Period dyes and fabrics don’t allow for the supersaturated hues we’re used to seeing. I know it’s really tempting to use saris , but that luscious emerald green… it just isn’t quite right. Check out this terrific site, Colors of the Romans. Wool takes color beautifully, but remember we’re still talking about madder, indigo, saffron… not Rit dye! And linen is very difficult to dye anything past pastel, except for indigo. Even if you do get a good color with multiple dips, it’ll fade rapidly. If you are placed in the Empire, you’ll have access to cotton and silk blends, but in general it’s still not accurate to wear a deep, vibrant color. Besides… your stola is wool, right?!?! LOL And if you’re too far into the Empire period, the stola is gone anyway.

Besides the intense color saturation, this sari has tiny polka dots. Super cute! Not, however, super Roman. Scattered patterns were used earlier (Etruscan, Minoan) and later (Byzantine), but not during the period when the stola was worn.  It also has an ornate, metallic-thread border, which only an Empress could have afforded. NOPE. Sorry, sari!

Stripes (aside from a pair of clavi, below, which have their own rules –  see my paper on clothing) mostly appear in upholstery. 11028351_10207618760244666_97679206636467951_n

12295437_1527039074285289_2993646916088110362_nInstead, the stola was a solid color. Pretty much the only embellishments were the shoulder pin or style of strap, and the optional institia, a constrasting band of color at the hem. Since the institia was sewn in, I think it’s probably meant to be replaced when the grungy city streets have had their way. These frescos are from Pompeii.

Left: A mint-colored stola over a saffron tunica. Both have white contrasting borders. I believe the pink at the top is either a photography artifact or damage to the paint, since there are no other mentions or  examples of ombre in contemporary sources.

Below: Pink and spring green stolae (standing). The ladies are also wearing saffron and light teal pallae (shawls). Double belting is visible in the pink one. Notice the seated artist just has a tunica and palla.  At the time of the Vesuvian eruption (79CE), only senatorial wives were still wearing the stola11257888_725701784223329_7092651995288532950_n

So… be colorful, but don’t go crazy! Stick to simple, period-achievable hues. West Wall of the Triclinium house of the chaste lovers

Part III: Construction!



About Sharon Rose, LAc, MSAOM

Acupuncturist, medical massage therapist, historian, scientist, road-tripper, geek, LARP & board gamer, food fan, Roman fanatic, belly-laugher.
This entry was posted in Clothing, Recreating history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Roman Stola: Part II, Color & Embellishments

  1. Pingback: The Roman Stola: Part I, Why Wool? | ROMANA SUM

  2. Pingback: The Roman Stola: Part III, Construction | ROMANA SUM

  3. Pingback: The Roman Stola: Part IV, Timing | ROMANA SUM

  4. Erin Ahlstrom says:

    Salve! I am wondering if, looking at plate 4, we might be seeing an example of a limbus? It would account for bright color on an outer layer below the waist. The way the fabric seems to hang like two overlapping pieces of fabric suggests that this stola might be draped on only one shoulder. With a limbus, the upper tunica viewed on her right shoulder (left side of the figure facing us) could still be pink, with the saffron tied in at waist level. I still lean toward your conclusion of damage/fading to the paint of the upper tunica (novacula Occami/Occam’s Razor), but put this forward solely for the sake of scholastic debate.


    • Interesting!! I do see what you mean about the crisscrossing fabric on her chest. I like the idea of the limbus (which I need to write more about in my papers) but it still looks pink to me on both shoulders. I’m sticking with paint damage… maybe even in the cleaning process?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. aniket makhija says:

    Salve! So I have a few theories on how a stola could’ve been constructed and I would like your feed back. I’ve seen in photos that, particuly on the sholders of stolas, there seams to be a lot of folds and pleats, could a roman seamstress could’ve sewed pleats or gathers at the sides to give that pleated look, give some more room to move about, and for sheer fabrics, make it less sheer?

    a second theory is that for the front a seamstress would’ve used to peices of fabric, sewn it together til the neckline to give it that v shape, then pleated the sides.


    • Salve! So lovely to hear from another enthusiast! While it’s possible pleats were made at the shoulders (I made my very first tunica that way), once I started doing more research it seemed unlikely. Look closely at the folds in the fabric of statues. They are too random for pleats, and the geometry of the fabric doesn’t really make sense unless they are just pinned. Pleats do appear in the “gathered neckline” stola, but that’s the only place I’ve spotted them. If you find evidence to the contrary, PLEASE let me know! I’m always happy to learn something new. 🙂
      As for a seam down the center, I strongly disagree. Again, look at the statues. The “V” is created by the drape of the very fine wool and/or linen. I encourage you to play with some high quality fine fabric, if you can get your hands on some. Seeing how the fabric moves with you will completely change your perspective! ❤ Tullia


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