types of medieval cloaks

Drapes of Distinction: The Various Cloaks Worn in Medieval Times

The medieval period was a time of noble knights, grand castles, and intricate designs. One of the most significant elements of the era was the cloak – a stylish and practical accessory worn by individuals of all social classes.

From the extravagant mantle worn by the nobility to the functional hooded cape favored by commoners, cloaks played a vital role in medieval fashion and feudal attire. These versatile garments were also used for protection against the elements and in battle.

In this article, we will explore the various types of medieval cloaks and their unique designs. Join us on a journey through time as we discover the historical significance of these drapes of distinction.

Key Takeaways:

  • Medieval fashion featured a diverse range of cloak designs worn by individuals of all social classes.
  • Cloaks were both stylish and practical, offering protection against the elements and in battle.
  • The mantle was the most prestigious cloak worn by the nobility, while the hooded cape was a popular choice among commoners.
  • Cloaks also symbolized important cultural and religious associations.
  • The different cloak designs reflected the diversity of medieval society and its fashion trends.

Cloaks in Medieval Fashion

In medieval times, cloaks played an essential role in fashion, both as a practical accessory and a symbol of social status. With various designs and materials, cloaks were a key element of medieval attire, adding flair and distinction to any outfit.

The most common cloak design was the cape, which came in various lengths, from knee to ankle. Capes were a versatile choice for all, easy to wear and functional. They were often made of wool or fur and embellished with embroidery or fur trim.

The mantle was the most prestigious cloak worn by the nobility. Made of luxurious materials such as silk, velvet, or brocade, it had a long train and was often lined with fur. The mantle was an intricate design masterpiece, reflecting the wearer’s status.

Cloaks in Medieval Fashion

The cowl cloak was a symbol of religious orders. It had a hooded design covering the head and face, adding to the mystery of the wearer. The cowl cloak was usually made of wool or linen.

The surcoat cloak was primarily used in battle. It had a sleeveless design and was worn over armor to protect it from the elements. Surcoats also displayed colorful heraldic symbols, representing the wearer’s family or lord.

The cloaklet was a shorter, more functional cloak used as a fashionable accessory. It was often made of lightweight materials and had various fastening methods, including buttons, ties, or clasps.

The hooded cape was a practical and rustic choice, often worn by commoners. It had a distinctive hooded design, offering extra protection against the elements.

Finally, the tabard cloak was an extravagant and eccentric design used to display heraldic symbols and personal achievements. It was often made of silk and was popular among knights and heralds.

The Cloak of Nobility: The Mantle

Feudal society had a strict hierarchy within which the nobility occupied the highest rank. Nobles were expected to dress appropriately to maintain their status, and the mantle cloak was an indispensable part of their wardrobe.

The mantle was a long, flowing cloak made of expensive materials such as silk, velvet, and fur. It was lined with rich fabrics, and its intricate designs were embellished with gold or silver thread. The cloak was often fastened at the neck with a jeweled brooch and draped over the shoulder to create a regal appearance.

Distinctive features Materials used Symbolism
The mantle was usually ankle-length with a train that trailed behind the wearer. Rich fabrics such as silk, velvet, and brocade were popular. The mantle was also lined with expensive furs. The mantle was a symbol of social status, power, and nobility.
The designs featured intricate patterns, with gold or silver thread embroidery and bejeweled brooches at the neck. Jewels and precious stones were often added for additional decoration. The cloak represented the wearer’s power, wealth, and importance in feudal society.

The mantle was reserved for the highest-ranking nobles, and its use was regulated by sumptuary laws. These laws dictated that the materials and designs used in the cloak were restricted to the nobility, making it a powerful symbol of the wearer’s social status.

The mantle was an essential part of the feudal wardrobe, representing the nobility’s power and dominance in society. Its intricate designs and luxurious materials were a testament to the wearer’s wealth, status, and importance in the feudal hierarchy.

The Versatile Cape: A Stylish Choice for All

The cape was a popular choice for individuals in medieval times due to its versatility and practicality. It came in various styles and designs, making it a fashionable accessory that could be worn by all social classes. Let’s take a closer look at the different variations of capes and their distinctive features.

The Full-length Cape

The full-length cape was a staple in medieval fashion and was worn by both men and women. It extended from the neck to the feet and was often made from wool or other heavy materials to provide warmth during the colder months. The cape was typically fastened at the neck with a brooch or clasp, adding a touch of elegance to any outfit.

The Half-Cape

The half-cape was a shorter version of the full-length cape, extending from the shoulders to the waist. It was a popular choice for travelers and those who required greater mobility, as it allowed for freer movement of the arms. The half-cape was often fastened at the front with a buckle or tie, creating a stylish and functional accessory.

The Hooded Cape

The hooded cape was a practical choice for protection against the elements. Its distinctive hood provided shelter from rain and snow, making it an excellent option for outdoor workers. This style of cape was typically made from heavy materials such as wool, providing warmth and protection from the cold.

“The cape was a popular choice for individuals in medieval times due to its versatility and practicality.”

The Decorative Cape

The decorative cape was a fashionable accessory that added flair to any outfit. It was often made from luxurious materials such as silk or velvet and embellished with embroidery or other decorative elements. The decorative cape was typically worn by the upper class as a symbol of wealth and status.

As we can see, the cape was a versatile accessory that could be worn by anyone, regardless of their social status. From full-length capes to decorative designs, each style had its own unique features and benefits. The cape remains a timeless accessory that continues to be popular in fashion today.

The Symbolic Cloak: The Cowl

The cowl cloak was a significant part of medieval fashion, known for its unique, hooded design. It was primarily associated with religious orders and symbolized mystery and humility.

The cowl cloak was worn by both men and women, and its design often varied based on the wearer’s position in society. The cloak itself was typically made of wool or linen and was simple in design, while the hood was often lined with fur or velvet for added warmth and luxury.

One notable example of the cowl cloak is the iconic red cloak worn by the Order of Cistercians. This cloak featured a long, flowing design with a hood that draped over the back of the wearer’s head. The red color symbolized the blood of Christ, and the hood represented the humility and mystery of the order.

Another common variation of the cowl cloak was the monk’s habit, which featured a loose-fitting design with a hood that could be pulled over the head. This garment was worn by monks and nuns across Europe and symbolized their commitment to a life of poverty and devotion to God.

Overall, the cowl cloak played an important role in medieval fashion, symbolizing religious devotion and humility. Its distinctive hooded design and association with mystery and secrecy made it a popular choice among religious orders and common people alike.

The Protective Cloak: The Surcoat

The surcoat, also known as a super tunic, is a popular cloak that served both functional and aesthetic purposes in medieval fashion. It was primarily worn by knights over their armor during battle for protection against the sun and rain.

The surcoat was sleeveless, which allowed for greater mobility during combat. It was typically made of heavy fabric, such as wool or linen, and featured a coat of arms or other heraldic symbols to identify the wearer. The surcoat was also worn by feudal lords as a symbol of their rank and authority.

Unlike other cloaks, the surcoat was not worn for warmth or as a fashion statement. Rather, it was a practical item used to protect the wearer’s armor from dirt and damage.

The Surcoat vs. Tabard

Although the surcoat and tabard were both worn by knights and featured similar designs, there are some notable differences between the two.

Surcoat Tabard
Worn over armor during battle for protection Worn over armor during jousting competitions
Sleeveless for greater mobility Had sleeves
Usually had a coat of arms or other heraldic symbols Featured the coat of arms of the knight’s lord

The surcoat continued to be worn into the 14th and 15th centuries, but eventually fell out of fashion as armor became less prevalent on the battlefield.

Today, the surcoat lives on in modern heraldry and is still used as a symbol of rank and authority in military and civil organizations.

The Functional Cloak: The Cloaklet

If you’re looking for a functional and fashionable accessory to add to your medieval outfit, the cloaklet is a great option. As the name suggests, it’s a shorter cloak that falls above the knee, giving it a more modern look. It’s a versatile piece that can be worn with a variety of outfits, making it a popular choice for both men and women.

The cloaklet is typically fastened with a clasp or brooch, which adds a decorative touch to the garment. The use of clasps and brooches was common in medieval fashion, and many of these accessories were highly ornate, featuring intricate designs and precious stones.

One of the benefits of the cloaklet is its functionality. Because it’s shorter than other types of cloaks, it allows for greater freedom of movement, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as riding or hunting. It also keeps the wearer warm without being too heavy or cumbersome.

The cloaklet comes in a variety of materials, including wool, cotton, and silk. Wool was the most common material used in medieval times, as it was readily available and provided excellent insulation. Silk was a more luxurious option and was often reserved for nobility.

One of the most popular designs for the cloaklet was the hooded cloaklet, which added an extra layer of warmth and protection against the elements. The hood was typically lined with fur or another warm material, adding a touch of luxury to the garment.

The Rustic Cloak: The Hooded Cape

The hooded cape was known for its practicality and rustic charm. It was often worn by commoners, especially those who worked outdoors. The hood provided protection from the sun, wind, and rain, making it ideal for those who spent long hours working in the fields or forests.

The hooded cape was an essential part of medieval fashion. It was made with various materials, including wool, fur, and leather, depending on the region and purpose. The cloak could be short or long, depending on personal preference and the occasion.

The hooded cape was also associated with anonymity and mystery, as it concealed the face when the hood was up. It was often worn by travelers and outlaws to avoid detection, adding to its allure and charm.

The Hooded Cape versus the Mantle: A Closer Look

While the hooded cape was popular among commoners, the mantle cloak was reserved for the nobility. The mantle was made with luxurious materials, including velvet and silk, and was often adorned with elaborate embroidery and jewels.

In contrast, the hooded cape was made with more practical materials and was often left undecorated. The hooded cape was also sleeveless, allowing for more freedom of movement, while the mantle had long flowing sleeves that added to its regal appearance.

Despite their differences, both cloaks were essential parts of medieval fashion and served different purposes in society. The mantle represented wealth and power, while the hooded cape represented practicality and anonymity.

The Eccentric Cloak: The Tabard

The tabard cloak was a unique and extravagant garment that was popular among knights and heralds during the medieval period. It was made of a single piece of cloth, typically reaching mid-thigh, with a slit in the front and back for easy movement.

What set the tabard apart was its lavish designs and elaborate heraldic symbols. These were often embroidered or woven into the fabric, showcasing the wearer’s personal achievements or affiliations.

“The tabard was a bold and striking garment, meant to catch the eye and convey a sense of pride and prestige. It was a symbol of status and served as a means of identification on the battlefield.”

Tabards were typically made of silk or other luxurious materials, making them a lavish addition to any medieval wardrobe. They were often worn over armor or other layers of clothing, adding an extra layer of protection.

While tabards were certainly a statement piece, they also served a practical purpose. They were designed with slits in the front and back to allow for easy movement, making them suitable for combat or other physical activities. Their sleeveless design also made them a great option for warmer weather.

Overall, the tabard was a unique and extravagant cloak that combined both style and function. Its elaborate designs and bold symbols made it a symbol of prestige, while its practical design and materials made it a suitable choice for battle and other physical activities.

The Cloak for the Elements: The Raincloak

The raincloak was an essential item of medieval feudal attire for individuals who had to work or travel outdoors regularly. It was specifically designed to protect the wearer from the harsh elements such as rain and wind.

Made from waterproof materials such as oiled canvas or leather, the raincloak was a practical solution for individuals who had to work outside, especially hunters, farmers, and travelers.

The design of the raincloak was simple and functional. It was a sleeveless cloak that covered the shoulders and back. The cloak was fastened at the front with a buckle or a strap, which made it easy to put on and take off.

The raincloak was particularly popular during the late medieval period, when the use of firearms became prevalent in battles. It was widely used by archers and crossbowmen, who had to keep their powder dry during rainy weather, to ensure they could fire their weapons accurately and quickly.

The Battle of Agincourt

The most famous example of the use of the raincloak in battle was during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The English longbowmen used the raincloak to keep their arrows dry during the heavy rain before the battle. This allowed them to shoot accurately and effectively, ultimately leading to their victory over the French army.

The raincloak was a practical and necessary item of medieval clothing. It allowed individuals to work and travel outside, even in harsh weather conditions. Its simple design and functional purpose made it a popular item of feudal attire for centuries.


Medieval cloaks were an essential element of fashion and feudal attire during that time. Various types of cloaks were worn, each with unique designs and practical functions. From the luxurious mantle worn by the nobility to the rustic hooded cape of commoners, cloaks were a staple in medieval fashion.

This article has highlighted the different types of medieval cloaks, including the versatile cape, protective surcoat, symbolic cowl, functional cloaklet, eccentric tabard, and practical raincloak. Each cloak served a specific purpose and was used by individuals for various reasons.

By exploring the historical significance and diversity of designs in medieval cloaks, we can gain a deeper understanding of the fashion and lifestyle of that era. These cloaks have left an indelible mark on history and continue to inspire modern-day designers and fashion enthusiasts alike.


What were the different types of medieval cloaks?

The medieval period saw the use of various types of cloaks, including the mantle, cape, cowl, surcoat, cloaklet, hooded cape, tabard, and raincloak.

What was the role of cloaks in medieval fashion?

Cloaks were an essential element of medieval fashion, adding style and practicality to outfits. They were used to display status, protect against the elements, and add flair to medieval attire.

What is the mantle cloak?

The mantle cloak was the most prestigious cloak worn by the nobility in medieval times. It was made from luxurious materials and featured elaborate designs, representing the social status of the wearer.

How versatile are capes?

Capes were a popular choice for all individuals in medieval times due to their versatility. They came in various designs and were known for their practicality and stylish appearance.

What is the significance of the cowl cloak?

The cowl cloak held symbolic significance in medieval fashion, often associated with religious orders. It featured a distinct hooded design and represented mystery and devotion.

How did the surcoat cloak serve a protective function?

The surcoat cloak was primarily used in battle and served a protective function. Its sleeveless design allowed for ease of movement, while displaying heraldic symbols to identify the wearer.

What is a cloaklet?

A cloaklet is a shorter length cloak that served both functional and fashionable purposes. It featured various fastening methods and was used to add flair to medieval outfits.

What is the hooded cape known for?

The hooded cape was known for its practicality and rustic charm. It was often associated with commoners, providing protection through its hooded design and keeping individuals warm.

What is the tabard cloak known for?

The tabard cloak was known for its extravagant and eccentric designs. It was used to display heraldic symbols and personal achievements, often associated with knights and heralds.

What was the purpose of the raincloak?

The raincloak provided a practical solution for protection against the elements. Made from waterproof materials, it featured a functional design and was commonly used by travelers and outdoor workers.

What are the key takeaways about medieval cloaks?

Medieval cloaks played a significant role in fashion and served various purposes. They ranged from prestigious mantles to functional raincloaks, showcasing the diversity of designs and the historical significance of these garments.