How to Host a Toga Party
There are many fun and creative ways to throw a toga party, which is essentially a costume party based on ancient Greek and Roman culture. The toga party reportedly made its first appearance in the 18th century and, thanks to the popular 1978 movie Animal House, it remains a common theme for college parties, including fraternity and sorority functions. It can also be adapted as either an adults or kids party, for Halloween, or even a birthday party. The guests normally wear togas that they have bought or made, and the food and drink options usually include traditional Roman or Greek fare. Decorations, music, and games or other activities are often included to make the experience feel more authentic.
When planning your toga party, ask your guests to wear togas, which they can easily make out of white bed sheets. Toga parties are popular among college students, since they don't require much money or planning, although someone who doesn't want to wear a bed sheet can purchase and tailor his or her own toga costume. The outfit can be completed with sandals, as well as with items such as decorative scarves, rope belts, and gold jewelry. You might also wear a head wreath, or create a headpiece made of leaves or other greenery.
Decorations for a toga party can include hanging vines and greenery. Gold and white are common theme colors, along with purple accents, symbolizing royalty or wealth. Many people decorate with simple candles, while others try to incorporate opulent Roman and Greek architecture and accessories such as columns, pillars, and urns. Balloons are a festive and inexpensive decorating option, as well. Your choice of music for a toga party will depend on your personal tastes and the preferences of your guests; college students tend to enjoy party music, for instance, while an older crowd might prefer to socialize with classical music playing quietly in the background.
Typical food at a toga party often includes appetizers and finger foods. Platters of cheese, vegetables, and fruit, especially grapes, are also popular options. More examples of authentic fare are olives, nuts, and even oysters on ice, all served on ornate platters. Wine is the traditional beverage of choice at a toga party, but many people serve a variety of drinks, including non-alcoholic options such as sparkling grape juice.
Your guests will appreciate the small touches you incorporate when planning your toga party, such as sending invitations rolled up as scrolls and tied with ribbons. In addition to having food and music, you can plan activities to keep your guests busy. Some popular ideas include trivia competitions and costume contests.
What Is a Toga Party?
A toga party celebrates popular notions of what ancient Greek and Rome were like. Because togas are easy to improvise at home, toga parties are a fun way to get your guests to dress up without requiring them to spend a lot of time or money on a costume. Since they’re often associated with college students (and especially fraternities and sororities), they’re usually seen as low-pressure opportunities to be silly and party a bit harder than you might at a more formal affair.
Toga Party Ideas
Start your party preparations with themed invitations. Use Roman numerals and a Latin greeting such as Ave Domine (not strictly historically accurate, but that's OK). If the invitations will be hand-delivered instead of sent through the mail, you can even roll them up into scrolls.
For decorations, focus on the colors and design elements found in Greek pottery, Roman statuary, and classical paintings. White and gold with purple accents will do nicely. Trailing greenery or false grapevines are pretty and popular options. You can use a large urn as a punchbowl; just make sure it's made from food-safe materials. Fake columns make a good frame for a photo backdrop. Provide a few accessories such as wreaths, jewelry, and even swords or helmets for your guests to pose with or to enhance their costumes.
What To Wear to a Toga Party
The easiest way to make a toga is to drape a bed sheet around your body and over one shoulder (wear a plain white T-shirt underneath) and secure it with safety pins. There are endless images and instructions online that you can use as a guide, but don’t stress about getting the folds just right. You can also buy pre-made togas or even commission a seamstress to make a custom-fit one. While most togas in ancient Rome were white, you can wear one in purple with gold embroidery as long as you’re prepared to boast about your military triumphs or your wise and benevolent rule as Emperor. Children’s togas usually had a wide purple stripe along the edge of the fabric.
Don’t stop with the toga itself! Accessorize with a wreath of green leaves on your forehead and sandals that lace up your legs. Raid thrift shops, the family attic, or your kid’s dress-up box for golden brooches to hold your toga in place and other pieces of costume jewelry with a suitably Greek or Roman appearance. Roman women loved to wear elaborate curled or braided hairstyles, so pull out your styling tools and get creative. You could even pick a specific movie or television character and try to recreate the look as exactly as possible.
What To Serve at a Toga Party
Food and drinks at a toga party can be as casual or as fancy as you like. A simple spread of fresh fruit and vegetables, chips and dip, cheese and crackers, and nuts and cold meats provides a good variety of options while requiring minimal preparation. If you want your table to be more on-theme, remember that the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have access to New World foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and corn.
Bunches of fresh grapes are a must-have; you can bet your guests will take turns feeding them to each other while reclining on your couch. Olives, pears, figs, nuts, and cheese were popular ancient snacks that people still enjoy today, though you’ll probably want to refrain from serving roasted dormice or sparrows. The Romans tended to eat more seafood than other types of meat, so a platter of oysters is a perfect addition to your feast.
Honey was the primary sweetener used in both ancient Greece and Rome. You can find recipes online for many types of cakes that are based on historical records, or if you’re not up for baking you can simply set out some fruit and a plate of bread drizzled with honey.
Wine is the beverage most associated with Greek and Roman feasts, although some modern breweries have started producing beers based on ancient recipes. A fun idea is to provide your guests with a piece of toast to drop into their wine as the Romans did. You can also set out honey and various spices for flavoring wine in the ancient style. For a children’s toga party, grape juice looks similar to wine without being alcoholic; you can also mix honey with water.
While disposable plates, serving platters, and goblets are easy to find, tableware made of real metal or glass looks more impressive than plastic. Check your local thrift shops before buying brand-new items; you may be pleasantly surprised.
@clintflint - I think that if anything people who are having a toga theme party are emulating a culture of excess and indulgence, who basically were more likely to be oppressors than the oppressed.
I always thought they were supposed to be based around those parties that they had in Ancient Rome where the people would eat and drink themselves silly and then visit the vomitorium to make room for more. Which, honestly, seems imminently suited to a college party.
@Iluviaporos - Well, the thing is, the Ancient Greeks and Romans weren't oppressed by the ancestors of the people wearing the costumes.
Some might still argue that it's stereotyping and it basically is, not to mention completely historically inaccurate and would probably be offensive to Ancient Greeks or Romans. I don't know if it would be offensive to modern people from Italy or Greece these days or not.
But they aren't an oppressed people so I don't think it's a big deal. It's definitely not on the same level as wearing a Native American costume. There are many levels of racism and appropriation going on there, not least the fact that this is a living culture whose people are discriminated against for wearing the same clothes that others use as a costume. And the items worn are often patterned after sacred clothes that aren't supposed to be used lightly.
As party themes go, I can think of much worse than a toga party.
I've always kind of worried that this sort of party is too much like appropriation. Is there really any difference between wearing toga party costumes and wearing a racist Native American get-up on Halloween?
I know it's essentially just a way to get everyone slightly out of their comfort zone but just because it's a kind of tradition doesn't mean that it isn't wrong.
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