FashionMuse: s – stole

So much more than a wrap; the stole is a cover-up with a rich and significant history;

i. a long robe, especially one worn by married women of status, in ancient Rome.

ii. a priest’s silk vestment worn over the shoulders that hangs to the knee or below.
iii. a women’s short scarf or shawl, especially of fur or marabou or similar luxury material, worn loosely over the shoulders. (Also wrap, boa, tippet, cape.)
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From the  Old English (in the sense of ‘long robe’ and ‘priest’s vestment’), via Latin stola, from Greek stolē ‘clothing’, from stellein ‘array’.



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Statue of Aphrodite – Hygieia with Eros                (John Paul Getty Museum)

Romanly:  The stole (or stola) refers to the dress worn over the tunic. Usually made of wool or cotton (and in an array of colors), it hung as low as the ankles and was fastened around the body by a girdle and to the shoulder by a Fibula or clasp.  It generally had sleeves and always had an Instita or flounce sewed to the bottom and reaching to the instep. Above the stole Roman women wore – a long scarf called a Palla to protect them from cold and rain out of the house.

Elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes were pretty much the only form of expression for a woman in Ancient Rome. Enshrined in the Roman Sumptuary Laws only married women were permitted to wear a Stola. By wearing one the Roman woman publicly procliamed her respectability and adherence to customs and traditions of the time.  The more  luxurious materials used (fine linens form Egypt, silk from China, but the most common fabric was wool  , the more highly elaborate the hairstyle and make-up and the more expensive jewelry confirmed her status and standing.


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Francis II wearing a 120 year- old stole                                       (that belonged to Leo XIII )


Priestly:  The stole as a liturgical vestment has been worn by various Christian denominations for centuries, to display status and denomination.  Likely the idea to bestow rank and function in this way came from the scarves of office worn by Imperial officials in the Roman Empire.  After being adopted by the Church of Rome about the seventh century , the stole has gradually become narrower and more richly ornamented as a signifier of dignity.

The stole has also become symbolic of the towel used by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples,  as the yoke of Christ, the yoke of service. The centre of the stole is worn around the back of the neck and the two ends hang down parallel to each other in front, either attached to each other or hanging loose. The stole is almost always decorated in some way, usually with a cross or some other significant religious design. It is often decorated with contrasting galloons (ornamental trim) and fringe is usually applied to the ends of the stole following Numbers 15:38-39:

 38Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:

39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them ; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:



Stately:  Stoles have said special or ceremonial or authoriative ever since; from the ceremonial dress of Kings and Queens,

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The Stole Royal, worn by Elizabeth II  for her coronation in 1953

to the formal robes worn by British Lords and Judges,

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Ceremonial Robes, House of Lords

to those worn by graduating soldiers and students today,

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Graduation Ceremony, University of Cambridge


Elegantly: From the seventeenth century, stoles became a graceful way to ‘finish’ womens dress.  With a stole or shawl or cape she could gain entry to, or confirm her standing in, the highest social circles.

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 Le Costume Historique (1888),  Albert Charles Auguste Racinet


Stoles, lengths of expensive materials wrapped around the shoulders were made in silk and chiffon for warmer days and fur and wool for winter. But it was the detailing that made them all so different; cropped, hemmed, lined, brocaded…there was a style to suit any occasion or garment.


A stole can also mean a fur or set of furs, (usually fox), worn as a snugly-fitting stole with a suit or gown.  The pelage or skin, of a single animal (head included) is generally used with street dress while for formal wear a finished length of fur using the skins of more than one animal is used.



Stole capes (or stole wrap) cover more of the upper body – and most commonly are made of fur.  But also lend themselves to the more showy type of stole – made from ostrich feathers, marabou, or other material.

Today we wear stoles for best or for respect (to cover bare shoulders or a low-cut gown). Hence they are very popular at weddings.


And then, every now and then, stoles get a moment in the spotlight when worn by celebrities (helpfully designed with a label of the sponsoring fashion house).


Rihanna’s Balenciaga fur stole, $1500.  (June 2016)

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