The Roman Stola: Part III, Construction


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. 

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 II: Color & Embellishment,  PART IV: Timing.

PART III: How do you make this darn thing, anyway?

I tried to find some Hollywood Roman stolae to make fun of, but nobody was wearing them at all! Even Spartacus, which takes place during the middle Republic and should be *lousy* with stolae… not a one. The costume designers made the same mistake many recreators do. They hit the eBay sari sales *hard* and then they put too much work into it. These garments are constructed, and trimmed… too many seams, too busy, not enough draping! Is…. that a CAPE coming off her left shoulder?! *boggle* 8554397b25c26342cc505b7882eb63f8

Put your scissors and sewing machine down. This is shockingly easy.

IMAG2326-1Make a tube, about 1.5 times your height.

You’re done.

Seriously. IMAG2327


Alternate method – if you like fabric dangling past your armpits.

Ok, if you really want to make it more complicated, you can add straps. Or a sewn-in contrasting color border at the hem (we talked about institia here.)

Scholz 50 GatheredHemTunic

112186762 croppedFor you master seamstress / overachiever types, there’s one variation that has a pleated top, but otherwise… I say go easy on yourself!

Step into it. Pin it at the shoulders*. Now hike up the hem until it brushes the tops of your feet. Belt it. Smooth down the extra fabric into a flap around your hips (The Roman ideal of beauty was small breasts and wide hips – the folded flap gives a fertile look)… and belt again. DONE.

For lots of details on the varieties of straps, read my paper. But the take-home here is don’t overthink it. Don’t add seams down the center, or gores, or floopy ruffles. It’s just a rectangle. With maybe some straps. What makes this work is the draping of the very light wool. Put your effort into finding the right fabric, not sewing! 🙂 One SCAdian posted an experimental version with a center seam and it’s been taken up as historical by people who shared it. It’s not, and the original post makes that clear.

*Pins are usually round brooches, about 1-1.5″ across. The back goes over the front. You also have the option of sewing rosette knots to join the front and back. See the pic at the top of the page for an example.

IMAG2356   IMAG2358  sewrosette3  Scan 12 1

Next is Part IV: TIMING aka do I really need to wear this thing?


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.

11 Responses to The Roman Stola: Part III, Construction

  1. Pingback: The Roman Stola: Part II, Color & Embellishments | ROMANA SUM

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

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

  4. Heather says:

    Hi! So I know you said we need to use wool, but I am terribly allergic to the stuff. I break out in hives and blisters when ever I wear it. Any suggestions for fabric to get a similar drape without the blisters and crying?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Emily says:

    My main question is how wide should the tube be for the stola? I have some 65” linen I’m using and when pinning it at the shoulders it’s simply too tight. So I added a piece of selvage to widen it and widened it by…. Well a lot. Now the armpits are nice and open and drapey, the back lays flat and pins nicely to the front over the clavicles with the pins I was using in place of straps. This also gives the front a nice V neckline. But the tube is almost as wide as my wingspan! Should it be a bit thinner? What’s a good gauge? Elbow width? My bust is 38” hips are the same, just trying to not get totally swallowed by fabric. And one more question, how is the palla worn when not partially used as a veil?


    • Hi Emily!
      Usually elbow-to-elbow is a good starting point, but it depends on how curvy you are. With bigger breasts, belly, or hips, you’ll need a wider stola to avoid tightness. Drape is essential for the look to work. As long as you are using fine, flexible fabric it won’t be bulky. As for the palla, frescos show it over the head (veil), around the shoulders like a shawl, and around the hips in private. Please let me know if you have any more questions!


  6. Pingback: Knowne World Courtesans Roman Bacchanal At Pennsic XLIX – Knowne World Courtesans

  7. Pingback: Knowne World Courtesans Roman Bacchanal At Pennsic L – Knowne World Courtesans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s