Historical questions about Capes

Capes have become associated with historical fashion.  While no longer playing a dominant role in mainstream Western fashion, capes remain a staple in history, entertainment and even cosplay.  In part, the popularity of capes can be traced to their uses in historical personalities like knights and witches.

Did Spartans Wear Capes?

The Spartans were a warrior culture in ancient Greece. Since they were often involved in fighting, they wore as little clothing as possible. This made it easier for them to move around and fight. Spartans usually wore tunics, boots, and cloaks.

They wore two different kinds of cloaks, one of which we would probably call a cape. A cloak is usually a longer article of clothing, almost like a robe without the sleeves. Spartans would wear those when they needed to be able to move easily.

The second type was what we would call a cape today. Traditionally, a cape is worn more for fashion purposes. Many people use the words interchangeably, but capes were much shorter than cloaks. A Spartan would wear what we would call a cape over a tunic, while their cloaks were usually worn without a tunic.

Did Knights Wear Capes?

Medieval knights were pretty weighted down by their armor to begin with, so you’d think they’d want to dress as lightly as possible. Nope! Knights wore layers upon layers of clothing, starting at their feet with closed-toe shoes, all the way up to his head, on which he wore a cap or helmet.

Over all his armor and undergarments, the knight would also wear a surcoat, which was a lot like a bathrobe might be today; a padded quilt-like garment that probably looked like a winter coat today; and a cloak. These cloaks usually went all the way down to their feet.

Did Vikings Wear Capes?

Clothing in Viking cultures was pretty unique, as far as ancient or medieval clothing goes. What clothing was worn varied between class and gender lines. The material, cut, and clothing pins that held the outfit together all signified what class the owner belonged to.

One thing that was pretty similar no matter who you were, however, was their cloaks. They were made of wool or animal skin, and were fastened with a pin at the shoulder. The length of these cloaks tended to vary, with some of them being longer cloaks and others being shorter, what we would now call a cape.

Did Pirates Wear Capes?

There have been many kinds of pirates stretching as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. However, when we think of pirates, we usually picture Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom fighting it out on the high seas. These are eighteenth century pirates, and are the most well-known today.

While pirates wore bandanas, the famous “pirate” tri-cornered hat, boots, and almost everything we picture when we think of them, they did not wear capes or cloaks. They may have worn a doublet, a kind of long coat, or a waistcoat, but they did not wear capes or cloaks as we would recognize them today. This may have something to do with them becoming too heavy in the event that they got wet, like during a storm or a battle.

Did Romans Wear Capes?

The Romans were basically the Kings of capes and cloaks. They had so many different kinds, they had one for all seasons and occasions!

Today, we’re probably most familiar with the abolla, which was worn by the rich and aristocratic; the sagum, worn by Roman soldiers and depicted in paintings and even in movies such as the Gladiator; and the paludamentum, which was worn by Roman Emperors during state occasions.

Do Witches Have Capes?

Broomsticks, pointy hats, and long black robes are how we traditionally picture witches. Thanks to the Harry Potter universe, we may picture those robes as different colors and possibly skip the hats altogether. Should we picture them wearing capes, though?

Traditionally, witches were depicted as wearing cloaks – long, hooded garments that often dragged the ground. While today this may give us a more mysterious vision of them, at the time, it was simply the fashion, and for warmth on those cold moon-lit nights just made for magic. Today, a witch might wear a cape if they chose to, or they might just hike out to the nearest fairy ring in their pj’s to do some spell casting.