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The cowl (from the Latin cuculla, meaning "a hood") is an item of clothing consisting of a long, hooded garment with wide sleeves. Originally it may have referred simply to the hooded portion of a cloak. In contemporary usage, however, it is distinguished from a cloak or cape (cappa) by the fact that it refers to an entire closed garment. Today it is worn primarily by most Catholic and Anglican monks when participating in liturgical services.
Developed during the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe, they became the formal garment for those in monastic life. Originally they were worn simply to give greater warmth than would an open cloak to people who regularly spent long hours in unheated and draughty churches.