21.10.16

The ancient Greek origins of the Cloak

Couple hiding under the same cloak, fragment of an Ancient Greek red-figure cup, ca. 525 BC–500 BC, found in Athens. Louvre Museum, Paris.

A cloak is a type of loose garment that is worn over indoor clothing and serves the same purpose as an overcoat; it protects the wearer from the cold, rain or wind for example, or it may form part of a fashionable outfit or uniform. Cloaks have been used by myriad historic societies; many climates favor wearing a full-body garment which is easily removed and does not constrain the wearer with sleeves. Over time cloak designs have been changed to match fashion and available textiles.

Cloaks generally fasten at the neck or over the shoulder, vary in length, from hip all the way down to the ankle, mid-calf being the normal length. They may have an attached hood, and may cover and fasten down the front, in which case they have holes or slits for the hands to pass through. However, cloaks are almost always sleeveless.

Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to wear cloaks. Greek men and women wore the himation, from the Archaic through the Hellenistic periods (c. 750-30 BC). Romans would later wear the Greek-styled cloak, the pallium. The pallium was quadrangular, shaped like a square, and sat on the shoulders, not unlike the himation.

Romans of the Republic would wear the toga as a formal display of their citizenship. It was denied to foreigners and was worn by magistrates on all occasions as a badge of office. The toga was claimed to have originated with Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

Sources
Oxford English Dictionary
Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500-1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5
Baumgarten, Linda: What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America, Yale University Press, 2016. ISBN 0-300-09580-5
Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Stone Age to the Twentysecond Century, Harper & Row, 2965. No ISBN for this edition; ASIN B0006BMNFS
Picken, Mary Brooks: The Fashion Dictionary, Funk and Bagnalls, 1957. (1973 edition ISBN 0-308-10052-2)

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