Ponchos are an ancient form of clothing originating in the Andes, although precisely where in this vast region the term “poncho” originated is anyone’s guess. The most basic poncho was made of woven alpaca fur and consisted of one or two blanket-shaped pieces of fabric that had a hole cut in it for the head, not unlike some later medieval garments developed in Europe.
More colorful ponchos were once reserved for men, as they were warm but still provided free movement. However, over more recent years, they’ve become more commonly associated with women’s fashion and numerous varieties now exist.
Let’s take a moment to look at some common varieties of ponchos.
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Types of Ponchos
1. Cape Poncho
This is one of the more fashionable ponchos, named for the fact that it’s draped over the shoulders much like a cape or shawl. It’s shorter than the ruana and lacks a neck opening. In fact, many cape ponchos are little more than blankets which are draped over the shoulders.
Cape ponchos often have a touch of Mexicana to their designs and are perfect when you want that “Christmas even wrapped in a blanket while sipping hot chocolate” feeling all year around.
This is a type of poncho found almost exclusively in Central Chile. The garment is highly decorative and full of symbols of its homeland, such as barley, birds, blackberries, copihue, fuchsia, grapes, pansies, and wheat. They also come in a variety of colors.
What makes these stand out is the pure craftsmanship involved. Both silk and wool are carefully woven together to create a pattern that’s fully reversible. During the day, the dark side is worn outwards, and at night, the lighter side is shown. The garment has a ribbon edging, further adding to its ornate qualities.
3. Fur Poncho
Fur ponchos aren’t anything new, although what most people consider to be a fur poncho is. The modern fur poncho is another cape-style design with an open front and is worn by draping it over the shoulders. Many fur ponchos have a clasp or other fastener at the neck. You’ll often see these being worn by models and actresses.
There is a lot of choice in how you want your fur poncho. Do you want it to be fur-lined? Or perhaps you prefer just the edge to have a decorative fur trim. They also come in three different lengths, making it easier to find one that compliments a particular body type, and you can choose between real fur and synthetic.
4. Military Poncho
The military poncho is about as far away from the traditional poncho design as you can get while still technically classifying as one. As with traditional ponchos, the military poncho is made from a single piece with a hole cut in the middle. However, it gets quite different from there.
While there are a wide variety of military poncho designs, the most common ones are made of a waterproof material similar to tarpaulin. They have numerous eyelets and snaps which allow the wearer to create sleeves or even build an emergency shelter using the poncho.
They also tend to be hooded and include a cord to tighten the hood. There are also variants that include camouflage of both the painted and three-dimensional variety.
5. Poncho Chilote
These simplistic ponchos are native to southern Chile and were originally made of chilihueque wool. Despite now being made of sheep wool, they’re barely changed over the centuries.
These ponchos are made of a medium to coarse wool and often have stripes of gray and brown in addition to the undyed white. The heavier design and coarseness allow these ponchos to be warmer than other types from the region, even when wet.
6. Poncho Sweater
As much as the name is a contradiction in terms, the poncho sweater is a real thing. It’s one of the more traditional ponchos, with a central opening for the neck. However, things get complicated from there.
Poncho sweaters have a wide variety of collar options, and many are hooded. They may have a straight or pointed waist, depending on the angle the collar is attached. The materials used can range from acrylic to for or wool.
7. Poncho Liner
Originally developed by the US military, this isn’t actually a poncho, but rather an accessory designed to accompany a poncho. The liner consists of two layers of quilted nylon with a polyester filling.
Tie cords allow the liner to be attached to a military poncho, providing extra warmth and protection. They’re often also used as a blanket and dry much faster than traditional wool blankets.
Poncho liners were first introduced during Vietnam, but have since become more widespread. Their design means they can keep the user warm, even when wet and are surprisingly comfortable. Modern poncho liners can be customized and there are many official kits to facilitate such modifications.
We’ve been covering many types of ponchos that are worn like a shawl, but what about one that actually LOOKS like a shawl?
The quechquémitl is a rather unique adaptation of the traditional poncho and is made of two rectangular pieces of cloth sewn together. In some cases, it’s enclosed like a poncho, while in other cases it’s open like a shawl. They usually have two points which can be positioned over the chest and back or over the arms.
These ponchos tend to only cover the upper chest and are sometimes folded and worn on the head. It’s not as common to see them worn these days, but they remain an important to Central Mexican culture and are believed to have been around for 2,000 years.
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9. Rain Poncho
Those living in urban areas are probably most familiar with this type of poncho. They’re hooded and made of waterproof materials, most commonly plastic. They also tend to be longer and often include pockets.
You can find rain ponchos being used in a wide range of situations. For example, they can be very compact, making them a popular choice to pack when hiking, boating, or going to a sporting event. They’re also a great alternative to umbrellas and many people buy one when they’ve lost their umbrella or have been caught by a surprise storm.
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Hailing originally from either Colombia or Venezuela, this is a long poncho that typically reaches to the knees. It’s made of thickly woven material, making it much warmer than a lot of other ponchos. As with many more modern types, this one has an open front and is worn like a shawl over the shoulders.
However, the ruana has something a little unique that sets it apart. This poncho is sometimes accompanied by a belt. The belt is typically wide, yet not garish and won’t detract from the poncho’s coloration or pattern.
11. Turtleneck Poncho
It was only a matter of time before someone came up with this idea, and it’s surprisingly popular. This poncho is the more traditional one-piece design with the central neck hole, only a turtleneck collar has been added onto it for extra warmth.
They usually reach down to the waist and are most commonly made of cashmere, cotton, or wool.