Fashion Masochist: The Toga

By Rachel Baker | Boston Magazine |

FOR BETTER OR WORSE, THE WORD CLASSIC HAS LONG been associated with Boston fashion. But what about classical? We are the Athens of America, after all.

Well, designers from Thakoon to Diane von Furstenberg have just rolled out ancient-inspired dresses for spring that wear their influence on their sleeve (or lack thereof). Unlike the elegant Grecian-style gowns of seasons past, these new, short numbers are all about artfully draped fabric, and — even when done up in tulle or glitter — give off a relaxed vibe.

Perhaps because I went to BU, where Animal Houses are few and far between, I’m eager to try the toga. But rather than snap up a designer version, I decide this is one trend that’s ripe for the DIY approach. One thing’s for sure from the get-go: A bed sheet is not my style. A fashion-designer friend refers me to Sew Low in Inman Square, which quickly becomes my new favorite store. Beyond the retro storefront sit hundreds of bolts of fabric — bright and dark, silk and poly, shiny and matte. Deciding which to actually buy feels like a major life decision. In the end, I go with a crisp hunter-green poly blend, an amethyst jersey, and, for good measure, a jazzy blue in the lamé family. I get four yards of each, at about $4 a yard. Let the toga-building begin!

Oh, and did I mention I can’t sew?

Standing in my work cubicle wearing a slip and tights, I cue up a YouTube video on how to make a toga and try to follow along. After only a minute or so, I realize I look half mummy and half diaper-wearing oversize baby. In a fit of frustration, I run to the bathroom and start draping the green fabric. And soon, with a bit of hem-trimming and just one safety pin (thank you very much!), I have miraculously created a sassy little dress, which I finish off with a purple belt. As it turns out, toga-making is not a skill: It’s an art.

Of course, I get the requisite “Toga! Toga! Toga!” chant from the office’s frat-boy contingent. And, because of the green color, another coworker launches into some sort of “Zelda or Zorba?!” routine (ah, the joys of working with wordsmiths). But I feel nothing but great in my playful DIY frock. From the South End to Central Square to Beacon Hill and back, the ensemble gets only accolades. And all for a mere 16 bucks! One local dressmaker even suggests I may have chosen the wrong career.

That weekend my Sunday-night train back to Boston from New York is canceled, forcing me to take the 6:20 a.m. Acela and leaving no time to go home and change before work. As I sit at my desk, grossed out by my laundry-needy T-shirt dress, a solution creeps into my head: Toga! Toga! Toga!

Sashaying down Huntington Avenue wrapped up in my jersey toga later that day, though, I sense something may be…off. It is: The end of the fabric has worked its way out of my belt and is now dragging behind me on the sidewalk, through slush and general yuckiness. I resolve to use two safety pins next time.