Types of Capes and Cloaks & The Differences Between Capes and Cloaks

In ancient times, cloaks and capes were worn as important styles of dress to indicate an individual’s rank. Members of the higher classes as well as scholars wore these clothes to represent their status. Capes were more common for women while cloaks were more often worn by men. These clothes were symbols used by the elite classes to alert lower classes of the presence of noble ranking individuals.

Cloaks and capes are both considered common types of outerwear even today, but the two are often confused for one another because of how similar they are. In reality, the two styles of clothing have many differences. The main difference between the two styles is the design of each type as well as the purpose for which one is worn. Traditionally, capes are now worn as a form of fashion while cloaks are worn to protect the user from the elements.


cloakA cloak is a long garment that can sometimes run all the way down to the ground, but shorter styles still tend to reach to at least the calf. The cloak will usually completely cover the attire underneath, and it is made without separate sleeves. Some styles may have openings for one’s arms to allow better movement. In the past, cloaks were used to provide warmth and act as a shield from rain, snow and cold wind much like a coat. These styles often had hoods and were fastened at the neck. The cloak in modern times (often referred to as a “gown” in traditional settings) is used in academic and judiciary settings to provide a more distinguished look and to represent one’s role or accomplishment.

Cloaks are often used to complete costumes as a form of dress-up or “cosplay” for those that take part in role-playing events that involve characters from fantasy or history genres.
Cloaks aren’t often worn in the modern day and are instead only seen in television, movies and video games set in long ago times. Although, the popular new television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” features striking images of women wearing dark red cloaks meant to completely hide their bodies. In that particular case, the cloaks are a symbol of oppression, but there are other stories where cloaks represent something entirely. In the fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” a group of guardsman called the “City Watch” are more informally called the “Gold Cloaks” because of the gold cloak each man wears as part of their uniform. This style of cloak resembles ones from the 18th century, where they are loosely tossed over the shoulders and do not feature any sort of collar, hood or decorative closure.

Because of its overall daunting image and old-fashioned appearance, the cloak won’t likely be making an appearance in modern day fashion anytime soon.


Compcapeared to cloaks, capes are usually worn for fashion instead of function. They can be thought of as shorter versions of cloaks, and they don’t usually feature a hood. Capes do not feature sleeves, and many types are directed toward the wearer’s back. Some capes do come around the front and shoulders, though. The cape remains placed on the torso and is fastened around the neck. It is similar to a poncho, but the method in which they are taken off the body is different. Ponchos are taken off like a pullover while capes are taken off by unfastening the area around the neck. Capes can sometimes be long as well, but these are the styles most commonly donned by fictional superheroes.

When the word cape is mentioned, usually images of superheroes like Superman and Batman come to mind, which would definitely be an accurate picture.  In fact, capes definitely get plenty of use during cosplay, which is the practice of dressing up as a character from a book, movie or video game. The famous detective from literature, Sherlock Holmes often wore his signature plaid cape along with his pipe and glasses. But capes also have a place in modern fashion as well. In the early 2000’s capes began to slowly appear on women’s fashion runways again and to this day have a solid place among ponchos and blazers as a stylish choice for fall and winter outerwear. They also come in lighter materials and floral and light colored patterns for spring and even summer, where they can be used as a bathing suit cover-up.

Main Differences: Overview


Cloaks: They are often worn by academia, judges and as components of costumes. Cloaks are still sometimes worn to protect the wearer from the elements.

Capes: Worn usually as fashion apparel instead of functional attire

Part of the Body

Cloaks: A cloak will usually cover the majority of one’s body from head to feet.
Capes: A cape usually only covers the back of the body, but they can also come around the shoulders to conceal a portion of the front of the body.


Cloaks: Cloaks are usually very long and cover the body from the head to the feet (in hooded versions). Common cloaks or gowns cover the area from the shoulders down.
Capes: Capes are usually shorter than cloaks covering down to the thighs, and some may go down to the ankles. Long capes are a typical feature of the suits of superhero characters.



Cloaks: Cloaks are sleeveless, but some may feature designated sleeves through which the arms are placed.
Capes: Capes are sleeveless, and they don’t require sleeves or arm slits because they are usually meant to be short and worn at the back.


Cloaks: Often feature hoods to serve their purpose of protecting the wearer from strong weather
Capes: These usually do not have hoods as cloaks often do.


Cloaks: Fastened at the neck with a rope or clip
Capes: Fastened at the neck (usually with string) to stay in place along the individual’s torso

Extra Decorations

Cloaks: Cloaks are usually very simple in appearance, but some may be embellished when worn as costumes.
Capes: They can be decorated with beads or other adornments for enhanced appearance. This may be more common with designs that cover the front of the body as well.