What is a Cloak?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cloak is a long, loose outer garment designed to protect the wearer from the elements. Like its relative the cape, this garment fastens at the throat with one or more clasps, and is cut from a generous swatch of fabric so that it can be draped over multiple layers of clothing. A cloak also often includes a hood as well, to protect the head and neck. Unlike capes, cloaks are always full length, ideally stretching to the ankles of the wearer, and close fully in front.

A cloak is a long outer garment that fastens at the neck.
A cloak is a long outer garment that fastens at the neck.

Cloaks have been a part of human dress for thousands of years. The simple cut of the garment means that one can be quickly assembled from any type of textile or hide. Since cloaks provides maximum protection to the wearer, many cultures include them in their textile history. Cloaks are not widely in fashion in the modern era, and have been largely replaced by fashionable capes, but they are still worn on occasion.

Cloaks are often used in movies and fantasy programs set in the medieval period.
Cloaks are often used in movies and fantasy programs set in the medieval period.

A basic cloak is designed with function in mind. Heavyweight textiles such as wool are usually chosen, for their insulating and water repelling properties. The neck typically closes with a frog or snap. If the material is rough, a lining of a softer material is often inserted into the cloak, so that it will not scratch the wearer.

More formal cloaks are made from luxury fabrics such as velvet and silk. Although these may be warming, they are designed primarily with looks in mind. Lots of fabric are often used so that the garment can be pleated, causing the fabric to drape in folds. A formal cloak may be embroidered or beaded as well. For women who are wearing full dresses, a formal cloak is often a better choice than a coat, since it will not crush the clothing worn underneath.

The garment often plays a role in popular fiction and film, as well. Many re-enactors wear cloaks, since they are associated with numerous periods in history. Fans of fantasy also integrate them into costumes and events, since fantasy fiction and film draw heavily on the medieval period for inspiration. Cloaks are sometimes imbued with magical powers as well, and they are often linked in the imagination with vampires, witches, and other mystical figures.

Cloaks are often linked with mystical figures.
Cloaks are often linked with mystical figures.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I wear my cloak every chance I get. It is not the prettiest nor most elegant, but it does what it was meant to do. I enjoy it and do mot mind the words said, or the looks. If I bring it back into style, good. Either way, the cloak stays, and I am trying to learn how to make one next!

I have enjoyed cloaks always. It is sad we lost such an amazing garment.


@shell4life - That sounds beautiful! We often think of cloaks as dark and mysterious, but your friend's velvet purple cloak sounds luxurious and regal.

The only place I ever see a cloak these days is at Halloween parties. Last year, my sister dressed up as some sort of gothic princess, and she wore all black laced with silver.

Her dress was black with silver ornamentation, and the gothic cloak she wore on top of it had a huge embroidered silver spider on the back. It's not something she could wear to any other event!


A long, thick, hooded cloak sure would be nice to wear to church on a cold day. I go to my grandmother's church, and she makes me wear dresses, even in January when there is snow on the ground! I wear pantyhose, but my legs still freeze.

There aren't many modern coats that cover as much as cloaks do. It would be so cozy to wrap my whole body in thick wool. I'm sure I would get quite a few curious glances, but it would be worth the attention to stay warm.


It's a good thing that many cloaks are pleated. Otherwise, they would just look like ponchos.

I think a cloak without pleats would be rather drab. It would seriously hide the figure of the person wearing it.

Of course, there are some people who would like to hide beneath a cloak. My best friend is obese, and she has often said that she wishes cloaks were fashionable.


My friend had a wedding with a medieval theme, and she wore a purple velvet cloak. The color purple was often reserved for royalty, and since she was the queen of the wedding, it was fitting for her to wear it.

The cloak had a ruffled neckline that raised up and out slightly. It looked like a fancy raised collar.

Once she got to the end of the aisle, she removed the cloak. It made for some really beautiful photographs while she was wearing it.


@Azuza - I loved the invisibility cloak on Harry Potter. I think there are a bunch of other movies where cloaks have magical powers too. Which makes sense to me. Cloaks are very mysterious looking, so it would make sense for them to have magical powers. Whoever heard of, say, a pair of flip-flops with magical powers? It just doesn't sound as a good as a magical cloak does!


I definitely associate cloaks with fantasy novels, movies, and television shows. As the article said, a lot of fantasy is set in a medieval setting, even if it isn't set in our universe.

I definitely also think of the Harry Potter movies when the topic of cloaks come up. The invisibility cloak Harry gets in the first movie figures pretty highly in the story. Also, it just seems like something that would be cool to have.


@dautsun - I think it's a shame no one wears cloaks anymore. As the article said, they're very useful, and they don't get your clothes all wrinkly like a coat does. Maybe if enough people start wearing medieval cloaks again, they'll come back in style!

I think cloaks are really neat looking, but unfortunately they just aren't in style right now. And I don't see them coming back in style anytime soon either!

So I just content myself with wearing my wool cloak to my local Renaissance festival in the fall. At least at the festival, I'm not the only one wearing a cloak, so I don't stick out like I would if I work one to the office.

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