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Battles, Batman, and Liberace: A Cultural History of Capes

The first time we saw Superman or Batman as children, we all wanted a cape so we could be a superhero, too. Some of us improvised with a towel; others had moms who would fashion a red or blue piece of fabric for the purpose. Then we were superheroes! Or maybe a scary vampire or Musketeer or some other fashionable rich and powerful person. But how did capes become associated with all this power? They’ve been worn for thousands of years -and that may give us a clue.

From the early days of the cape, when Latin was still spoken on the streets, capes spoke of battle, status, and statuses in battle. Military commanders of the Roman Empire donned paludamentum—a long, flowing cape fastened at one shoulder—as part of their ceremonial battle preparations. Centurions fighting under their command got to wear capes, too, but had to settle for the sagum, a less majestic, less flowy version that fastened with a clasp across the shoulders.

But the wearing of a cape continued through the Middle Ages and into modern comic books. Read about the evolution of the cape and what it represents at Atlas Obscura.  

(Image credit: Flickr user randychiu)


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