The River Road by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1855 (Three habitants wearing capotes)

A capote (French: [kapɔt]) or capot (French: [kapo]) is a long wrap-style wool coat with a hood.

From the early days of the North American fur trade, both indigenous peoples and European Canadian settlers fashioned wool blankets into "capotes" as a means of coping with harsh winters.[1] The garments served as winter outerwear for First Nations, the habitants and voyageurs of New France, the Métis of the Red River Colony, and the British settlers, traders, and trappers of British North America.[2]

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) sold capotes, called blanket coats, made out of the company's "point" blankets.[3] These were sold at HBC trading posts starting the early 18th-century, and were popular among traders for their "wrap" style, which was easy to move and hunt in.[4]

The Canadian Mackinaw jacket, originally made from HBC blankets,[5] serves as a functional equivalent of the Hudson's Bay Company blanket coat.[6] The Hudson's Bay blanket coat served as a template for the Mackinaw jacket.[citation needed]

The English language adopted the French word capote at least as early as 1812.[7]

Habitant capote

A Habitant in a capote, 1778.

In the early 1600s, French sailors traded their capotes to the Micmac in North America. By 1619, the French habitants were also wearing capotes. Fifty years later, the habitants wore an altered form of the capote, possibly based on the then fashionable justacorps, or on the French military uniforms of soldiers stationed in New France at the time, such as the Carignan-Salières Regiment. The altered knee length version had no buttons and was worn with a military sash (Ceinture fléchée).[3][8] The habitant capot was no longer the sailors' capot nor the soldiers' capote, but something distinct, combining features from both.[9]

Capot is the Quebec French word that described this unique winter jacket. From capot came the verb encapoter or s'encapoter also in Quebec French (meaning to put on a capot and other winter accessories before going out).[9]

Métis capote

The Metis man’s winter attire was the capote; a thigh length coat with full length sleeves which could come with or without a hood or cape. Most had small shoulder decorations made of red stroud. To keep the coat closed there were both thongs and buttons or a sash.

The Surveyor: Portrait of Captain John Henry Lefroy ca. 1845 by Paul Kane. Lefroy is wearing a Métis/voyageur outfit consisting of a capote, a sash, a fire bag, mittens on a string, leggings, garters and moccasins. His companion is also wearing a capote, a sash and a fire bag.[10]

"Red stroud" refers to the "Stroudwater Scarlet", cloth produced in the English town of Stroud, which was used for the uniform of the British Army.[11] The Métis capotes of the Red River area were made of leather or wool.[10] Those made of leather were often decorated with beads and silk embroidery in floral designs.[12] The wool capotes were of different colors; blue was preferred by the Catholic Métis and white by the Protestant Métis while grey was worn by both.[10] A sash was worn around the waist and a fire bag was either tucked in the folds of the sash or hung around the neck by a shoulder strap. A fire bag was used for carrying flints, steel and tinder to start a fire as well as tobacco, pipe, knife and other personal items[13] as most capotes had no pockets.

William H. Keating described a group of Métis buffalo hunters he encountered at Pembina by the Red River in 1823.

All of them have a blue capote with a hood, which they use only in bad weather; the capote is secured round their waist by a military sash; they wear a shirt of calico or painted muslin, moccassins and leather leggings fastened round the leg by garters ornamented with beads,&c. The Bois brulés often dispense with a hat; when they have one, it is generally variegated in the Indian manner, with feathers, gilt lace, and other tawdry ornaments.

— William Keating 1824[14]

In Canadian culture

In the latter half of the 19th century the blanket coat was popularized amongst the European-descended population of Canada to the extent that it was looked on as national dress. Blanket coats had been used for some time before by those with outdoor occupations, but in this period the cut and construction of the coat started to follow changing European and American fashions and became more widely used.[15]

The popularity of the coat was part of a wider movement to adopt aspects of the culture of indigenous people in order to establish a Canadian identity that was separate from both British and United States identities.[16] Two elite groups were important in establishing the blanket coat's popularity. One was the Montreal Snow Shoe Club, which adopted the blanket coat as required equipment.[17] Snow shoeing was another activity adopted from indigenous people and for a time became immensely popular as a sport. The other group was a succession of Governors General of Canada photographed wearing blanket coats. Perhaps even more significant for spreading the coat as a fashion was its wearing by the wives of Governors General, known as viceregal consorts. Initially considered a male garment, by this period it was being made in versions for women and children.[18]


See also


  1. ^ "the native canadian". Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  2. ^ "Hudson's Bay Point Blanket Coat". HBC Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2022
  3. ^ a b "Capots (Art. III. Capots, with some Side Lights on Chiefs' Coats & Blankets, 1774-1821, by A. Gottfred.)". Northwest Journal Online. Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  4. ^ "Hudson's Bay Point Blanket Coat". HBC Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2022
  5. ^ Reedstrom, Ernest Lisle (1991). Ernest L. Reedstrom's Scrapbook of the American West. Caxton Printers. p. 53. ISBN 9780870043031. Retrieved 4 October 2023. The original mackinaw coats were made from Hudson's Bay "Point" blanket.
  6. ^ Grady, Wayne (1998). Chasing the Chinook: On the Trail of Canadian Words and Culture. Toronto: Viking. p. 163-164. ISBN 9780670882434. Retrieved 4 October 2023. The mackinaw blanket jacket is the old North West Company's equivalent to the Hudson's Bay Company blanket coat.
  7. ^ "capote". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  8. ^ "Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site of Canada (The Capote)". Parks Canada. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  9. ^ a b Déliberations Et Mémoires de la Société Royale Du Canada. Royal Society of Canada. 1885. p. 21. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  10. ^ a b c d "Metis Culture: A pictorial essay on the Metis capote". Laurence J. Barkwell. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  11. ^ "History". Stroudwater Textile Trust. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Floral Beadwork: A Métis Cultural Heritage to Rediscover". Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  13. ^ "Royal Alberta Museum Online Exhibitions: A Métis Fire Bag". Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  14. ^ William Hypolitus Keating (1824). Narrative of an expedition to the source of St. Peter's river ... &c., performed in ... 1823. p. 44. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  15. ^ Eileen Stack (2004). "Very picturesque and very Canadian: the blanket coat and Anglo-Canadian identity in the second half of the nineteenth century", in "Fashion--A Canadian Perspective" edited by Alexandra Palmer. University of Toronto Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-8020-8590-0.
  16. ^ Stack, p. 33
  17. ^ Stack, p. 18
  18. ^ Stack, p. 21