Medieval Clothing: Cloak

The Medieval Cloak was worn over indoor clothing and protected the wearer from the cold, rain or wind.

Over time, cloak designs have been changed to match fashion and available textiles.

During the Early Anglo-Saxon period, a short, fur-lined cloak was designed so that the skin of the animal faced outward and the fur brushed against the undergarments. The cloak opened either at the front or at the right shoulder and was fastened with a brooch, usually circular in shape. Cloaks could also be closed by tying, lacing, or using a clasp made of thorn, bones, wood, or horns.

The word cloak comes from Old North French cloque meaning “travelers’ cape,” literally “a bell,” due to the garment being bell-like shape.

History of the Cloak

Both ancient Greek and Roman men and women wore cloaks. The Greek-styled Roman cloak, or pallium, was shaped like a square and sat on the shoulders. Romans of the Republic would wear a toga as a formal display of their citizenship, claimed to have originated with Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

Cloaks used until the Renaissance were simple in design.

There are very few examples of hooded cloaks in examples of Codex, although some cloaks were worn with separate hoods, either over or under the cloak.

Types of Cloaks

Cloaks can be classified flexibly into:

  • Button-Shoulder Cloaks: Worn exclusively by men, these cloaks were closed on the right shoulder, usually with buttons. This style of cloak seems to be the descendant of the Greek chlamys. 
  • Mantles: A style of cloak witha center-front closure, usually with a cord attached to metal mounts. This style of cloak is the only style which appears on women.
  • Royal Cloaks: A type of fur cloak with a fur capelet. This style seems to be worn only by men and evolves in the 15th Century into a ceremonial-only garment for kings and noblemen. 

Image Gallery: Cloaks in Medieval Manuscripts & Art

Medieval Clothing: Cloaks and Tunics in the Stuttgart Psalter, dated 801-850, Paris, France.
Medieval Clothing: Cloaks and Tunics in the Stuttgart Psalter, dated 801-850, Paris, France. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Medieval Cloakes and Tunicsin the Cambridge MS R.17.1 Eadwine Psalter, dated 1150, Canterbury, England.
Medieval Cloakes and Tunics in the Cambridge MS R.17.1 Eadwine Psalter, dated 1150, Canterbury, England. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Cloaks in the Morgan M.619 Winchester Bible, dated 1160-1180, Winchester, England.
Cloaks in the Morgan M.619 Winchester Bible, dated 1160-1180, Winchester, England. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.

Books about Medieval Clothing

Cloaks on Amazon

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