The other day I was wearing one of my favorite ruanas when not one, but two people said “I love your cape!” Now I will happily take a compliment from a stranger any day of the week (thank you, kind lady in the grocery store!) but a teeny part of my brain was saying “but… it’s actually a ruana!” My background in merchandising means terms like these are second nature, but that isn’t the case for most. So why not put that knowledge to use! Presenting Fashion 101: the cape vs the poncho vs the ruana.
The cape is a sleeveless outer garment that first came into popularity in Medieval Europe. It can be enclosed, with holes for the arms, or open in the front. It’s traditionally worn as outerwear. The bottom hem is meant to hit at a single level point around your body. Here I am in two kinds of capes. The Plaid Cape is more traditional, while the white Blazer Cape is an updated silhouette.
A poncho is essentially a large square of fabric with an opening in the center for the head. It originated in the Americas. Most fashion ponchos are shorter on the body. (Not to be confused with a full length rain poncho from Disney World, lol.) This is typically worn more like a cardigan – a light layer to keep warm or to simply finish an outfit. Because of the square/rectangular nature of the fabric, this lays on the body in a high/low hem. I don’t actually have a poncho, as I overdid it when they had a moment in the 2000’s and since purged all of those. Here are two current examples, a pretty solid version with ruffle trim from Lilly Pulitzer and a Missoni in the classic zigzag print.
The ruana is a version of the poncho, originating in the cold Andes Mountains. It’s the same large square of fabric, but instead of an opening for the head this style has a slit down the front to the hem. So you can wear it long and flowy or drape one side over your opposite shoulder to wrap you up. It’s a warmer piece than the poncho, often in heavier fabrics like wool and thick cable-knits. I love these as transitional pieces when you need a little more warmth; fall is a perfect season. Or when it’s -16 degrees outside and you’re freezing inside your home!
And note that little G is wearing a cape in the above photo. They work for all ages!
And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed this nugget of design info. Happy Shopping!