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”We’ll never give these up!” – Black cape is the history student’s overall

(Article:) Venla Valtanen
(Photo:) Nella Keski-Oja Translation: Ree Melanen
  • At first sewing patches on the capes was frowned upon but the rules have relaxed. Anniina Yli-Kahila (left) and Veera Semi show off their capes.

As you set foot on campus, you'll likely spot them: student overalls. But what are these black capes, aside from occasional objects of confusion, delight, and befuddlement, and who wears them?

”Honestly, the cape idea might be my proudest academic achievement,” says Kirsi Äyräs, one of the three ”inventors” of the cape, in the 50th anniversary special edition of the University of Turku (UTU) history students' magazine.

When overalls were gaining popularity in the 1980's, history students decided to do something with a bit more personality. 

But why a cape?

”The cape was a natural choice, because students of the Turku Academy, UTU's predecessor, wore black capes,” explains cultural history student Veera Semi.

”The cape is the symbol of the Kritiikki family,” muses Anniina Yli-Kahila, student of European and world history, summing up the base principle of cape-wearing: the cape may be worn by any member of subject association Kritiikki, which represents students of cultural history, Finnish history and European and world history.

Besides being stylish, the cape serves many practical purposes. It can be transformed into a picnic blanket, a snack pouch or even a blackout curtain.

”Some even use them for their First of May naps,” students reveal.

The capes are self-made from scratch: first year history students order the fabric every year and Kritiikki board members and tutors help with pinning, sewing and coffeemaking in the multi-day cape making workshop.

”I must have sewn ten capes in that sweat shop last year!” Semi recalls.

Most students only wear the cape a couple of times a year: on First of May, at cape parties and on the Night of the Black Capes, when freshers first don their capes at the statue of Henrik Gabriel Porthan.

”When new students take the cape oath in lantern light the atmosphere is ceremonial”, Yli-Kahila says.

In the cape oath students swear never to wear overalls or wash their cape – the only washing allowed is a First of May dip in Aurajoki.

”At first, one of the unwritten rules was to never sew patches onto them. These days everyone does as they think best.”

Capes are beautiful, long-lasting and practical, but above all they are a mark of belonging.

”Cape merriment is at its highest when we all march to the city centre together, flags and capes billowing,” Semi says.

”You hear amusing comments pretty often. Once some student wondered why the cathedral park was full of dementors,” Semi laughs.

Semi continues: ”Most people are very appreciative of our capes, and most comments are well-meaning in the end.”

Both students see a bright future ahead for the capes.

”The number of capes ordered gets higher every year, and new students are especially enthusiastic about them,” says Semi.

”The cape means love, joy, acceptance...” Yli-Kahila counts off.

”We'll never give these up!”


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