Autumn is upon us and we’ve already felt the first hints of its approach in crisp morning and evening air. This is the time of year when people take a mental inventory of the warm jackets and cosy jumpers and cardis in their wardrobe. But if you haven’t already embraced the unique comforts of a poncho, consider throwing this ultimate casual layer into your mix of cool-weather clothes.
What is a Poncho?
A classic poncho is a square or rectangle of woven fabric that has a hole in the center for your head. The material then drapes over your shoulders to cover your torso, your waist, or even extend below your knees for a particularly dramatic look. Ponchos can have either fringed or straight edges. Think of them as wearable throw blankets. What could be cosier than that?
The History of the Poncho
The poncho originated among ancient cultures in the Andes Mountains of South America prior to the arrival of Spanish colonists. The indigenous peoples of Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia are famous for their colourful woven ponchos. The Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina are thought to have brought the poncho to other South and Central American regions.
Some traditional patterns and colours are closely associated with specific regions. And classic ponchos go by different names in different regions, such as ‘Chamanto’ in a small section of central Chile, and ‘Ruana’ in cold regions of Venezuela and Colombia.
Ponchos would go on to become a standard-issue military garment for the US military and the British Army. Clint Eastwood famously wore one in Sergio Leoni’s A Fistful of Dollars and its Spaghetti Western sequels.
Poncho vs. Cape
The hole for the head is what distinguishes a poncho. Capes and cloaks rest across your shoulders with a full opening in the front, and often a hook, button, or tie to keep the garment secure at your neckline. Serapes and wraps have the blanket-like quality of a poncho, but they are draped and wrapped across your shoulders without any closures.
How to Style a Poncho
Wearing a poncho gives you a layered, boho-chic look in an instant. Simply pull a classic poncho over your head and you’re good to go. The process of putting on your poncho may mess your hair a bit, so you can fix it once the poncho is over your head—or you can fully embrace bohemian style and leave it a little mussed.
The Dressed-Up Poncho
For an evening out with friends, or for a date, choose a poncho with a lighter knit to give your ensemble a more streamlined, pulled-together look. Add colour with a pair of statement earrings or a bold choker that stays visible above the poncho’s neckline. If the poncho is long, try cinching it at the waist with a colourful belt. Tall or over-the-knee boots also pair beautifully with ponchos.
The Laid-Back Poncho
For the weekends, a patterned or plaid poncho in a chunkier knit will keep you warm and comfy as you run errands. Layer the poncho over your favourite long-sleeved tee and slim-fit jeans and you’ll look effortlessly elegant. Add a pair of hoop earrings and a hair scarf for a playful touch.
The Office Poncho
Though the poncho evokes images of mid-afternoon siestas in the shade, it’s actually the perfect layer for work. A patterned or solid poncho takes the edge off stuffy business attire, and you’ll welcome having one on hand if your boss likes to keep the office temperature low through the autumn and winter. Simply wear a poncho over a fitted button-front shirt and tailored trousers, and accessorise with a classic watch and bright stud earrings.
Think of ponchos as stylish and distinctive alternatives to jumpers, jackets, and scarves, that mix up your cool weather wardrobe. They can be sophisticated or free-spirited depending on what you wear with them—but they are invariably warm and chic.