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History of Cloaks

The English word cloak derives from the medieval Latin cloca, meaning cape, and the Old French cloke, which was the same as the later cloche, meaning bell. The word was used because the most usual form of cloak in the early centuries AD, as well as in more ancient cultures, was a simple bellshaped design without fastening, made from a roughly circular piece of material with a hole cut for the head. The German medieval design Glocke was similarly named.

A loose type of outer covering for the body has remained in use in all parts of the world since man first wore animal skins. Throughout the centuries the piece of fabric, large or small, was utilised by the ordinary man or woman as a blanket or bed-covering at night and a garment by day, its size and material varying only according to the climate in which it was being worn. Examples of this double use of the cloak stem most often from societies where a person had to spend the night in cold weather or in the open and required protection from the rain and wind. Roman soldiers used their cloaks for this purpose, as did the Scots who wrapped themselves in their plaid at night and pleated and draped it round themselves by day. In the Middle East, the Arab burnous and hayk have traditionally served the same purpose as they were essential in the chill of the desert night. The earliest cloaks were simply fur skins held to the body by a leather thong or fastened by a thorn or a crude pin at the shoulder. Later, the cloak became an outer garment worn over a tunic and hose; while in the more sophisticated times of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, this outer garment, still necessary for travelling, riding and keeping out the cold, had become an item of fashion in its own right, with an elegance of line and beauty of fabric and lining.

The cloak has been made from every possible shape and size of material. In primitive times and in the ancient and classical cultures, it could be circular, semicircular, a segment of a circle, a rectangle or a square; but it was simply a piece of material, not sewn, but draped or pinned about the person. Medieval mantles were similar and varied greatly in size; they were generally fastened by a brooch or cords at shoulder or neck. From the sixteenth century onwards, cloaks and capes were cut and shaped, sewn and lined.

In ancient civilisations -An the warm areas round the Mediterranean and in the Middle East - in Egypt, Persia and Greece, for example - the cloak was often of fine linen or cotton and worn only on top of a loin cloth or short tunic. The Egyptian cape could be very fine, almost transparent, falling in pleats or small folds from the decorative neckband (see also Egypt, ancient). The Cretans wore cloaks in winter, but these were chiefly functional rather than decorative and were short, made of wool with fur edging. The coat or caftan was more usual in Persian dress, but the simple, circular cloak with a hole for the head, like the one illustrated, was worn by soldiers and travellers. The outer wear of classical Greece and Rome was entirely a draped style. Both sexes had large mantles or cloaks, such as the Greek himation and the Roman palla and toga, which were intended to provide warmth as well as to act as evidence of rank and position. The himation and palla were rectangular pieces of material and the toga was shaped as a segment of a circle. In both cultures there were also a variety of shorter, knee-length cloaks, such as the Greek chlamys and the Roman lacerna. These were generally fastened on one shoulder and were worn by men for travelling or by peasants and soldiers. Some designs had hoods attached, such as the Roman paenula (see also Greece, ancient and Rome, ancient). Byzantine cloaks and mantles followed similar lines (see Byzantine dress).

In non-classical Europe during the Bronze and Iron Ages and, later, during the early centuries AD, cloaks were the essential outer garment for both sexes. In the colder north, fur was widely used merely as a skin fastened by thorn or brooch at the shoulder, or as a lining to a wool garment. The shoulder fastening was more common than the brooch at the pit of the neck for, especially in the case of a man, it left the weapon arm free for action. Cloaks were semi-circular, square or rectangular and reached to the ankles or to the knees; some had hoods attached.

In the early Middle Ages, mantles for the nobility and wealthier classes were often very long and voluminous. Such mantles were worn over the ankle- or ground-length tunics of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries by both men and women. Sometimes the brooch shoulder fastening was replaced by cords or chains across the chest, attached on each side of the garment to a metal boss. In the later Middle Ages, from the fourteenth century onwards, cloaks were worn less often, except if needed for warmth in travelling and riding. They had been rendered less necessary because of the introduction of the separate hood with attached shoulder cape, the varied designs of surcote, also the houppelande. Similarly, in the first part of the sixteenth century, the wearing of the loose, padded gown or chamarre made the wearing of a cloak superfluous on most occasions.

It was from about 1550-60 that the cloak returned to daily use, this time as a garment of fashion and not merely of utility. Capes and cloaks had long been traditional Spanish garments. in the second half of the sixteenth century, with Spanish dress paramount, they came into their own and spread all over Europe. Spanish modes were greatly varied - in length, in fullness, by the addition of hanging or open sleeves, and by the use of a wide collar or small turn-back or none. The method of wearing also differed as the garment could be worn round both shoulders or over only one, or might simply be draped over an arm or slung round the body by its fastening cords. The Spanish cloak was beautifully cut and sewn; the materials used were rich and heavy; linings contrasted and edges and collars especially were luxuriously decorated. Earlier styles tended to be larger, later ones very short.

The cloak continued to be an item of fashionable dress for men in the seventeenth century until, in the last quarter, the advent of the justaucorps and the later habit d la francaise finally replaced the cloak with the traditional three-piece suit. In the 1630s and 1640s especially, the cloak was draped casually about the body, over an arm, over a shoulder, or suspended round the back by its cords - these were the most elegant ways of wearing what was a full, richly ornamented and beautifully lined article. In the early 1670s the cloak was still being worn for warmth in winter, slung round the shoulders on top of the coat, but after this it became an article reserved for wear in cold weather, at night, and for travelling and riding. Ladies had also been wearing cloaks for these purposes during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it had been an article of usefulness rather than fashion for them.

During the eighteenth century, greatcoats were more usual outdoor wear for men than cloaks, though the latter were worn for evening attire and for bad weather and travelling. There were several specific designs, such as the long, voluminous cloak with one or more shoulder capes, usually worn by men; and also the cardinal, which was a shortish cloak with a hood, for ladies. Some cloaks were named after persons who had made them famous for varying reasons; for example, the Nithsdale, a long, hooded riding-cloak, often fur-lined, which took its name from Countess Nithsdale who helped her Jacobite husband to escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised in her voluminous cloak. There was also the Roquelaure, named after the Duke who first wore it. This was a knee-length cloak with a skirt vent for riding on horseback. Worn all over Europe, and especially in the American colonies, it had a high or cape collar and was buttoned down the front.

The cloaks worn with masks at masquerades and carnivals derived from the fashions at eighteenth-century Venetian events. In Venice the custom was for both men and women to wear a loose cloak of rich, decorated material - a tabarro - and, on top of this, a bautta - a short, black net or lace cape attached to a black silk hood which covered the head and neck but left the face exposed. A white half-mask, called a larva, was worn with this outfit and a black tricorne hat was added on top. The domino was the equivalent dress in other areas of Italy and in Europe. This cloak was often black and was fuller and longer than the bautta; it was usually hooded and was voluminous. The Venetian attire is vividly depicted in paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo and Pietro Longhi.

In the nineteenth century, men more generally wore greatcoats of varied design for outer wear rather than cloaks, but voluminous cloaks were still in use for travelling, often with shoulder capes attached, and black opera cloaks were fashionable with evening dress, especially in the first half of the century. A bicorne hat accompanied these, or from about 1840, a Gibus, the collapsible opera top hat, named after its inventor (see Hat). The opera cloak was usually of velvet or cloth, fastened with silk cords and lined with coloured silk. The crispin was similar but had long cape sleeves. During the nineteenth century, as in the eighteenth, ladies frequently wore cloaks and capes of varied designs because their fullness and looseness was so suitable for wearing over the immense hoop and crinoline skirts. These cloaks, which had collars and/or shoulder capes, were made of all kinds of material suited to winter and summer fashion and varied in length from a mere shoulder cape to a ground-length garment. At the end of the century the multi-tiered shoulder cape with high collar was especially fashionable.

Apart from fashionable dress, certain types of cloak are traditional designs which have been worn for long periods in widely separated parts of the world and have continued in use for so many years because of their practical use for the protection which they offered from cold, rain or public gaze. The circular cloak, with or without a hood, but with a hole cut for the head and worn without fastening, has been referred to. This has appeared from earliest times and through the centuries from such widely separated periods and areas as the ancient Persian example illustrated, to the Alpine mountain cloak in Austria and Germany, its Pyrenean equivalent, and its near relation, the square-shaped Spanish poncho (see Poncho). Another design, most usually worn by women, is the full, long cloak made of heavy wool and with an exceptionally large hood; an Eskimo version of this, in fur, is described and illustrated under Babies' and infants' wear. A thick flannel design was worn extensively in Wales, especially in the eighteenth century. This was ankle-length, very full and was faced with silk. The large hood was gathered, then tailored into the stitched collar. A similar garment, usually in black cloth, was traditional to Ireland, where it was often termed a Kerry cloak. Sometimes the large hood was not cut separately and stitched on to the main garment but was part of it, draped or held in place by cords, brooches, or just the arms, and it thus enveloped the whole figure, head and body. This cloak is of ancient origin, dating back to the Arab world of the early centuries AD, where it took the form of the haik or hayk. It was imported into Spain by the Moors and was seen and illustrated by Christoph Weiditz in Granada in 1529, also in Flanders in 1532 (see bibliography).

From Spain, this design of cloak spread over Europe where it was especially popular with the women of Flanders and northern Germany in the sixteenth century, where it was known as a heuke or huik. Fynes Moryson, in his travels in Europe in the 1590s, describes this 'hoyke or veil' (see bibliography). There were several designs, chiefly the hooded heuke, the peaked heuke and the heuke with hat; Weiditz, in the 1530s, depicts the first two of these. In the hooded design, wire or whalebone was used to stiffen the upper part so that it projected in front of the head like a canopy. The peaked heuke had a wood or whalebone structure at the top which projected in front like a duck's bill and the fabric of the cloak was held close to the face at the sides. The bill or peak acted as a counterbalance to the weight of the material of the garment. At first the bill was flat but gradually it became higher and concave on top and convex beneath. In the later sixteenth century the round hat with a spike on top was often worn on top of the heuke and held it in place on the head so that it could be draped in folds round the figure without a peak. The heuke continued to be worn in the early decades of the seventeenth century, when the material was often pleated, causing the fabric to fall in a multitude of folds.

The Arab garment, the hiiyk - derived from hak, to weave - which was the prototype of these European cloaks, was an oblong piece of cloth (generally striped) which the Arabs used to wrap round their head and body over their other clothes. It was used for day or night wear and measured about six yards in length and five to six feet in width. The same type of garment survived - worn by the women illustrated by Weiditz - in Granada in 1529 and is also in use by Tunisian women of the twentieth century.

Another Arabic garment, related to the hayk, is the burnous, also used as an item of clothing by day and a blanket by night. This is a hooded cloak, worn extensively now and for centuries past by Arabs and Moors and also in Turkey. Often it is fringed-edged and a tassel decorates the lower edge of the hood. Usually it is made of wool and is often white. The Arabic word was incorporated into Spanish as albornoz which, in the seventeenth century, was a hooded travelling cloak.

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2006 March 28