Wizard Clothing, or How I Learned That the Chapter Illustrations Have Got it All Wrong
The portrayal of wizard attire in the movies and in the chapter illustrations in the books has bothered me for awhile. It just didn’t seem right – especially in PoA (the movie) and in the chapter illustrations that show the characters wearing basically Muggle clothing with a small cape around their necks. I think that the portrayal of the Hogwarts uniforms in the movies is also off by quite a lot. I have come to the conclusion that real wizards and witches do not wear trousers or skirts. Robes are their base garments, with cloaks overtop when it is cold enough.
I will not be using examples from all of the books, because there are hardly any references to clothing in Prisoner of Azkaban. References are plentiful when we first enter the wizarding world in Sorcerer’s Stone, and again when we see so much of it in Goblet of Fire, but they taper off in between. I assure you that the references are consistent through all of OotP, but I’m not yet done completely rereading that one, and it’s massive, so I used the examples that stood out to me. Support for my vision of wizard clothing is plentiful enough through the U.S. hardcover editions of SS, CoS, and GoF.
One of our first descriptions of a wizard is trouser-free. Dumbledore appears on Privet Drive wearing robes, a cloak, and boots (p. 8). It’s a very detailed description of Dumbledore, and trousers are nowhere in it. When we see Harry’s school list, in the shack on the sea, his uniform requirements include: one black hat, one winter cloak, one set of gloves, and three sets of black work robes (p. 66). A uniform is meant to make all students look the same, clothes-wise, and trousers are left out. Either the robes are voluminous and long enough to render legs invisible (and the appearance of what lies beneath unimportant), or they are not worn with the uniform. At Madame Malkin’s, Harry is measured only for his robes, not trousers – and he would certainly need some, as he only has Dudley’s cast-offs (p. 77).
On the Hogwarts Express, Ron requests that Hermione leave the compartment while he and Harry change – which seems extremely strange if they’re just throwing robes on over trousers and shirts (p. 110). However, on the return journey, they change with Hermione in the compartment. This doesn’t completely break my theory, as I’ve seen people change clothes frequently without actually exposing themselves – it’s a neat trick, handy in the locker room, and it wouldn’t be very difficult or awkward to slip on trousers under a robe, then take the robe off and emerge fully clothed. This seems plausible, considering the boys are a lot more comfortable with Hermione than they were on the journey to Hogwarts (and not looking for a reason to send her away). I think it’s most likely that the boys put trousers on under their robes, knowing they would be changing on the train. Hermione likely did the same thing, either with jeans or a skirt on under her robes.
Chamber of Secrets
Since we’re a bit more acquainted with the basics of the wizarding world, we don’t hear much about clothes in this book. However, before the trio uses Polyjuice Potion, Hermione steals robes (p. 215). All three of them would have trouble wearing their normal trousers (or in Hermione’s case, a skirt) after transforming into Crabbe, Goyle, and Milicent Bulstrode. It’s impossible, and yet there’s no mention of Hermione stealing trousers or a skirt and certainly no mention of her stealing appropriately striped House ties (don’t even get me started on that one).
Goblet of Fire
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley certainly dont wear anything but robes, as we learn as Harry is fretting about their arrival at the Dursleys’. Because, “while their children might don Muggle clothes over holidays, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were usually wearing robes in varying states of shabbiness” (p. 40). Mr. Weasley dresses Muggle-like as they go to the Quidditch Cup – because they’re supposed to be as low-key as possible, and robes are definitely not low-key. One of the funniest lines in the book (so funny it causes Hermione to completely lose her composure) supports my position: ”I like a healthy breeze round my privates, thanks” (p.84). Apparently, old Archie is used to having just that and there’s really no way to get that breezy feeling than by wearing either a kilt or just robes. I’m guessing that a kilt is strictly Muggle clothing, since another wizard, trying to look like a Muggle, has chosen to wear “a kilt and a poncho” (p.75), perhaps to capture the airiness of his usual robes, as kilts are often worn sans undergarments.
In the graveyard scene at the end of the book, Lord Voldemort speaks his first words in his new body: “Robe me,” (pg. 643). Not, “Help me step into these trousers, Wormtail,” but robe me.
Order of the Phoenix
Although we get less detail about female-specific attire, I’d like to state that witch clothing is definitely not just a skirt or a dress. If it were at all similar, McGonagall would not have looked quite peculiar in a Muggle dress and coat as she did when she came to Twelve Grimmauld Place (pg. 118). Not to jump out of my book heading here, but we are also told in GoF that Hermione is wearing robes made of “a floaty, periwinkle-blue material,” (pg. 414) and if dress would have been accurate, don’t you think it would have been used? As is typical for the adults of the series, the movies seemed to have got McGonagall’s wardrobe spot-on, especially when we see her in SS at the top of the steps.
The scene that really brought this entire topic up for me is Snape’s Worst Memory. When Severus is flipped over (pg. 647), we see his less than Clorox clean underpants. Sort of tricky to pull off with trousers on, isn’t it? I’m positive that trouser-removal was not part of the spell, and that underpants are simply what youd find under any witch or wizards voluminous robes, especially during warm months.
Yes, voluminous. When fitted properly, I think they are similar to the garments worn by many Muslims or old samurai garments that hide the bodys true position. Harry found this out when trying to subtly make Ron shut up in St. Mungos, when Neville came over: “…but this sort of thing was much harder to bring off unnoticed when you were wearing jeans rather than robes,” (p.513). A little cape would not provide cover for your feet.
What does it all mean?
I suppose that some people, especially those who are not used to seeing perfectly manly men walk about in kilts, could not imagine men wearing something so similar to a dress. It’s not such a big leap to think of witches wearing just robes, but to many the idea of men without trousers is alien. I think that as Hogwarts students become older and spend more time in professional situations, they will move to wearing robes more exclusively, dressing as a Muggle only when necessary, some of them doing it just as awkwardly as their parents. I’m also willing to admit that if it is cold enough, even a hardcore wizard or witch will put on as many layers as necessary, so you might find some trousers under uniforms at Hogwarts during those frigid, windy, rainy Highland winters.
I do not think that robes are something prized more by the older generations (the parents of current Hogwarts students) and that a move to wearing Muggle clothing full-time will occur. I suspect that robes may actually be somehow better suited to performing magic, just as quills and parchment are better suited to magic than pens and sheets of notebook paper. Children do not need to constantly be robed, since they are not even permitted to perform magic during their holidays. I think these seemingly antiquated objects and apparel are better suited for enchantment and magic than their Muggle counterparts. However, judging from recent GoF pictures that have been released, the movie makers do not agree with me – oh no, is that mesh on Harry’s athletic-striped Quidditch robes? Sadly, it is. I don’t remember hearing about that, do you?