The mantle was an all-purpose overgarment that was worn consistently throughout the Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 1500). Mantles were extremely simple: they consisted of a large piece of cloth, rectangular, semicircular, or circular, that was wrapped across the shoulders and fastened. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the mantle was typically fastened at the right shoulder with a small metal clasp or brooch. By the late twelfth century, however, people began to drape the man-

The mantle, worn by the two men on the left, was a medieval allpurpose overgarment that resembles the modern-day cape. Reproduced by permission of © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS.

Overgarment Mantle

tle over both shoulders and fasten it at the center of the chest. New fastenings included cords that tied or a button and loop.

The simplicity of the mantle made it very adaptable. Poor people might wear a mantle of undyed wool with a crude clasp. But wealthy people could wear mantles made of rich silk, trimmed with soft fur, and fastened with an expensive jeweled brooch. Some form of the mantle has been worn throughout the history of human dress: the basic form had been worn in ancient Greece and Rome, and were called chlaina, diplax, and chlamys, and people still wear capes to this day.


Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[£ee also Volume 1, Ancient Greece: Chlaina and Diplax; Volume 1, Ancient Greece: Chlamys]

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