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.
PART IV: WHEN did they wear this darn thing, anyway?
In the early Roman world, starting in the 5th century BCE, there was a garment called the vestis longa – (“long dress”) worn by matrons. By the 2nd century BCE, it was called the stola, and became emblematic of a respectable married woman. It was hugely sought-after for its legal and social protection in the middle and late Republic. It wasn’t necessarily worn at home, unless you were entertaining guests, but it was essential for going out in public if you were entitled to wear it.
As the Republic shifted into an Empire, the stola lost popularity. For a bigger discussion on “why,” see my paper, but the probable causes included:
- Bulky layers are a hassle, particularly in a warm climate (personally I don’t give this one much credence. It was popular for hundreds of years in the same place. Think about Victorian-era mens’ three-piece wool suits in warm, humid parts of America – people get used to pretty much anything. Also, the wool the Romans were using was extremely light and airy).
- Exposure to other cultures (via trade & war) reducing the importance of “traditional values,” such as appearing to be a perfectly modest wife.
- Those same shifts leading to fewer wives wanting to spend their time spinning and weaving such a voluminous garment.
- Random changes in fashion
For a while, high-status women continued to be immortalized in statuary and paintings wearing stolae to symbolize their virtue, although they didn’t wear one in daily life. Eventually even the metaphorical stola died out.
Handy dandy guide:
Wear a stola if your persona is:
500- 300s BCE: A freeborn woman married to a Roman citizen
200s BCE – 30s BCE: Any woman married to a Roman citizen
30s BCE – about 68 CE: A highly traditional woman married to a Roman citizen (rapidly decreasing popularity – the same thing happened with the toga!)
70s-90s CE: Wife of a Senator
2nd century: A statue or painting (representative portrait)
3rd century onwards: Nope
There’s a more fleshed out timeline on page 32 of the paper. I think this will conclude the blog series. If you have questions or I’ve made an error, please let me know! 🙂