What’s the difference between a poncho and a ruana?
A poncho is a blanket with a hole cut for your head to go through. Sometimes the blanket is buttoned up the sides to create a side seam with a long gap for your arms.
A ruana is similar to a poncho in that it is also a blanket that covers your upper body. But the blanket is divided into two for half its length so that it hangs over your back and shoulders and the ends of the blanket are left to drape open at the front. Like a poncho, a ruana sometimes has buttoned side seams with openings left as armholes.
Ruanas with sewn side seams are basically kimonos. Long ruanas with side seams are similar to dusters.
The poncho is a traditional garment that has been worn for thousands of years in Mexico and most parts of what is today Spanish-speaking South America. The word ruana was used as a local name for a poncho in colder areas in regions which became Colombia and Venezuela.
The word ruana is rarely used in British English. Brits tend to use the term poncho for both styles of blanket – ponchos and ruanas.
Are ponchos just for Christmas?
Ponchos and ruanas were originally used for warmth, either on horseback or when walking. They are unstructured jackets – or coats if they are longer.
Today they come in many types of fabric. Thick knitted and woven ponchos and ruanas worn over narrow jeans are a staple winter outfit for women of all ages. You can wear these thick tops to snuggle on the sofa or to go shopping.
See the lambswool poncho I bought for warmth in my Winter Capsule Wardrobe try-on here.
You can even find ponchos in rainproof fabrics so you can wear them walking the dog in Seattle or waiting for the bus in Manchester.
I used to live on the Camino de Santiago, or the Compostela as we called it in France. Every day I’d see solitary pilgrims, head down, waterproof poncho covering them and their backpack, trudging along in the autumnal rains.
You’ll find lots of ponchos in winter sales but they’re also a popular Christmas present for older women especially. That’s because young women think we’re always cold. But also because you don’t need to worry about an exact dress size when you purchase. At most, these tops offer small medium and large. That makes it so easy.
Is a lightweight poncho or ruana worth buying?
Simple answer – definitely!
Lighter weight ponchos and ruanas come in fine cashmere as well as man-made fibres. These drape well and look stylish over narrow pants, leggings or even a dress.
Wear a cashmere poncho instead of a jacket for travelling. You can just roll or fold the poncho when you take it off and even pop it in your tote bag. This avoids the problems of creasing with more structured jackets and coats.
Today you can find these lighter weight ponchos in a huge variety of colors. Go for a bright color over a black outfit or a toning color for a more minimal look. Think camel over dark brown or ivory over a gray dress.
They offer the perfect way to add style and a layer of extra warmth in all seasons.
Can you wear a poncho to a smart event?
Ruanas and wraps and pashminas are all classy additions to more formal wear. You’ll see lots of wedding guests and mothers of the bride popping on a fine woven ruana for drinks on the lawn. Perfect for covering up heavy arms whilst looking cool and relaxed.
The ruana is ideal for arriving at a party, reception, the theatre or the opera. It can be removed once you’re sitting down and draped over the back of your chair – something you would not wish to do with a jacket at an elegant dinner.
In winter look for fur-trimmed ponchos to add an extra dash of style to your look. With many you can detach the fur trim or pom poms when you’re wearing a more reserved outfit.
Are summer ponchos and ruanas fashionable today?
They are increasing in popularity every year.
The lightest weight ponchos and ruanas come in silks and almost sheer man-made fabrics. These are wonderful for summer days through into the evening whether you are relaxing with a book and wide-brimmed straw hat or socializing with friends at a barbecue.
Make the most of the colors and patterns available today. A top with an extravagant pattern in bold colors might be outside your comfort zone in spring, but team it with a white tee shirt and white leggings or narrow pants and you’ll love how you look when the sun comes out to play.
Ruanas also make useful cover-ups for beachwear. Look for pretty patterns on printed cotton.
They are inexpensive and so easy to take along to the beach or the pool. Always pack one in your beach bag for a day of sunbathing.
Am I too old at 70 to wear a poncho?
One of the great things about these unstructured jackets, and which makes them timeless classics, is that they look good on all ages and all figure types.
A poncho drapes over your body and (a lightweight one) moves around you as you walk. This means the exact contours of your body are camouflaged.
Ponchos are perfect for older women. They do not cling to your back, your upper arms or your rear. Cardigans can show ridges of flab on your back. A poncho does not. But of course you need to buy it large enough to drape rather than fit your body.
Use color to highlight your upper body so that there’s less focus on your legs. Ponchos and ruanas fold up neatly and take little storage space in your closet – never hang them as they will develop bulges at the shoulder. So it’s possible to collect ponchos in lots of colors, fabrics and patterns.
If you’re over 50 your wardrobe is not complete these days without at least one poncho or ruana. They are the most versatile jackets you can buy.
Where to buy these ponchos
Below are some of the featured ponchos, click to get current (often discounted) prices. If you purchase I likely receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support!
This is a link to the Brora aran cashmere poncho in the top picture. Brora is a high quality, famous Scottish cashmere designer with its own Scottish mill. Use the country button at the top right of its pages to choose your country and currency.
The White Stuff warm lambswool poncho is part of my Winter capsule wardrobe 2022-3 at 73
If you enjoy reading about fashion and style for women well over 50 then take a look at these posts:
Best roll necks for women over 50
17 great hairstyles for women over 50 with a double chin
If you want to restructure your wardrobe so you have less clothes but more useful outfits, The Mature Style Course is for you! Short videos take you step by step through a closet declutter based on your shape, your coloring, your budget and your personal style.
Excellent post. I have a few ponchos that I sending wear but once our weather warms as spring approaches, I’ll make an effort to wear them more often.
Thanks for your comment Barb. So pleased to hear you are reconsidering your ponchos. I hate having stuff in the back of the closet I hardly wear, don’t you? Joni x