The cloaks, capes, and robes in Harry Potter demonstrate the different personalities and professions of the characters. The costume designer for the movies after The Prisoner of Askaban (HP3), Jany Temime, said an estimated 20,000 robes were produced for the movies. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The easiest way to distinguish a wizard from a muggle in the Harry Potter universe is their robes—that, or their misinterpreted muggle fashion. There are dress robes, Quidditch robes, school robes, and formal robes. The long fabric billows and protects, splays out and stays close, just as they would, being in the same family as cloaks and capes. (Read on the difference between cloaks and capes here.)
Though Jany Temime included more muggle clothing in the movies she designed, to make the golden trio more accessible to teenagers and children, the Hogwarts school uniforms are still the most iconic article of clothing in the movies. In the first two movies, the robes looked like basic wizards robes.
Dark and plain, with no place for pockets, these robes do not stand out as Hogwarts robes beyond the red and gold Gryffindor patch. In some ways, they emphasize the more childish tone of the first books and movies. Here, the trio is only 11, so perhaps it is fitting for the costumes to look a little awkward and incomplete—just like the people they clothe.
The shift in robes brings thicker fabric, more uniformity, and a greater emphasis on the houses. The house color is added to the hood, sleeves, and the edge of the front, though it does not line the entire cape. The house patch is smaller and pockets are added. As they must carry their wands everywhere, large pockets seem like a must for their uniforms.
In general, the new uniforms are more luxurious, crisp, and colorful. Even in a sea of Hogwarts students, the houses stand out. When someone’s house is the first thing recognizable about a student, it makes their differences more apparent. Completely different are the Beauxbatons from The Goblet of Fire.
Pictured left is Jany Temime, costume designer, and one of the Beauxbaton uniforms found at Universal Studios. Beauxbaton, as well as Durmstrang, is not divided into houses, so the uniforms do not have color variations.
Beauxbaton makes their entrance in these baby blue uniforms, with their skirt and shoulder-cape flowing. They are intimidating in an elegant, almost pretentious way. The shoulder cape adds to this effect, as it is impractical but beautiful.
Dumstrang, on the other hand, has simple brown clothing. Instead of robes or capes, they wear thick coats, hinting at a colder climate. Where Beauxbaton is all flowing, thin fabric, Dumstrang is fur and rough fabric.
The different uniforms of the schools represent their personalities: study-focused Hogwarts, elegant Beauxbatons, and powerful Durmstrang.
If there is a robe or cloak Harry Potter values most, it must be his father’s invisibility cloak. As it becomes invisible the moment it is worn, it is more often observed in its absence than its appearance. In the books, it’s described as light, “fluid and silvery gray … in gleaming folds” (Ch11, The Sorcerer’s Stone). In the movie, it appears more colorful.
The material in the movie is still shiny and looks similar to a beetle. There is certainly something very old, extravagant, and magical about the cloak. It is believable that the cloak had been passed down for generations and holds powerful, unique magic. Using the cloak, Harry and his friends break nearly every school rule in existence—but it also saves their lives multiple times.
While the students have a uniform, the professors at Hogwarts can wear their choice of robes and hats. Dumbledor, though now the headmaster and not professor, is first.
Dumbledor’s robes are lighter, muted colors with understated embroidery. They seem the perfect complement to his personality; greatly skilled but humble, and very old. He is not someone to constrict himself to social standards, so it is possible the previous headmaster wore more extravagant robes.
The robes, though neutral and not flashy, are thick and appear high quality, if not faded by time. The light color, in one way muted, in another way stands out starkly next to the dark Hogwarts uniforms. Their embroidery looks medieval-royalty inspired. They also contrast with Voldemort’s dark green robes, which will be touched on later. Where the students are divided by colors and houses, Dumbledor is not constrained to a single house.
McGonagall, like Dumbledor, is older. Her robes, though, are quite different; in most instances, she wears emerald green robes and a high-collared shirt. The collar adds to her strict appearance, and though the emerald green could add vibrancy to one character, they made her seem more severe. As she is the head of Griffendore, it is strange to wear Slytherin colors; on the other hand, it would be more strange to see her wear bold red and gold.
Other professors include Snape, Flitwick, Trelawney, and others. Snape’s clothing is similar to McGonagall: he wears dark robes with high collars. His robes, however, are all-black and simpler. As Snape wears exclusively black throughout the movies, not only does he looks severe, but he also looks scary. Where McGonagall is strict but fair, Snape is known to be unfairly cruel.
Professor Flitwick wears robes resembling muggle formal fashion, making him appear more modern than McGonagall and Snape. Trelawney forgoes robes, capes, and cloaks entirely; she wears eccentric dresses, making her even more obviously an odd one out.
Like the Hogwarts school uniforms, the Quidditch robes in Harry Potter change between The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Askaban. They also prove that wizards will wear robes even when entirely inconvenient—what better place to get strangled by your own cape than flying around a Quidditch pitch?
Their capes in the first movies are very saturated with their house colors, which makes them easier to identify when playing the game. On the other hand, they do look more childish and not secured—the robes are only secured by a string. They look like a more colorful version of their school uniform, which doesn’t make sense when you consider that one robe is for walking and the other is for playing an intense sport.
The new Quidditch robes are still colorful, but less bright and childish. They model rugby uniforms and look more secure. The cape also starts lower on their body; this should decrease the likelihood of getting a face of one’s own cloak, while still providing the dramatic look of a cape. Of all the robes in Harry Potter, Quidditch robes get perhaps the greatest chance to be dramatic, as they spend most of their time billowing through the air.
Finally, delving into the villains! Jany Temime expressed that, more than any of the other characters, the most fun to costume were the villains. The Death Eaters wear exclusively black, with a more formal, gothic look. They look like new money trying to look like old money—fitting, considering their pretentious and self-serving natures.
Voldemort is at the helm of the Death Eaters, though, and dresses in subtly different ways. Where most Death Eaters wear formal clothing, many with embroidery or detailing, Voldemort’s robes are simple. They are dark green and tight, making him appear even more snake-like. Like Dumbledor—the only wizard powerful enough for Voldemort to fear—he does not feel the need to make his clothing convey power. His presence alone is enough to make overcome people with fear.
The green color suggests snakes, but also suggests the killing curse. Harry Potter’s signature spell is Expelliarmus, which is red, while Voldemort’s signature spell is the green killing curse.
This also takes us back to the Hogwarts houses—Harry’s red matches his Gryffindor nature, while Voldemort’s green matches his Slytherin past.
Green and red are complimentary colors, marking Harry and Voldemort as true opposites. Through the colors, textures, and styles of their wizarding robes, the natures of the characters are represented and exaggerated.