How Harry Potter May Have Been Influenced by the Uniforms of University Students in Portugal

A Coimbra university student in uniform, cloak and all
A Coimbra university student in uniform, cloak and all
Bobo Boom, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Consider the cloak: that heavy, full-length piece of outerwear most often associated with epic fantasy franchises, and specifically, Harry Potter. It’s not something you’d wear to class, not if you value practicality—and yet somehow it remains the most iconic part of the wizarding school uniform.

But in the non-magical world, Portuguese university students have been wearing cloaks to class day in, day out, more or less since higher education was invented. They are the indisputable pioneers of the trend—so much so that many would swear, under Veritaserum if needed be, that J.K. Rowling was inspired by the Portuguese when picking out the outfits for her young wizards. Although Rowling has never been explicit about her inspiration for the cloaks, she wrote part of what would become Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone while living in Porto, Portugal, in the 1990s. Tour guides often point out the cloaked university students, whom Rowling must have seen walking to and from class, as the likely inspirations behind the Hogwarts dress code.

The look stems from the history of post-secondary education in Portugal, which has some of the oldest universities in the world. When the country's first university—the University of Coimbra—was created in 1290 in Lisbon, teaching was a religious vocation (as was learning), and so the medieval campus was teeming with clergymen. There wasn’t a student uniform, exactly, but the mish-mash of men from different religious orders did result in a student look: a dark, severe ensemble that civilian students began to approximate in the centuries that followed. As late as 1850, the all-male student body at the University of Coimbra was still wearing knee-length cassocks over shorts and knee socks. A long cloak topped off the whole outfit, lending a decidedly clerical look to the decidedly civilian students.

Things changed, dramatically, in the latter half of the 19th century. The progressive spirit of the era replaced the old-fashioned shorts with a practical three-piece suit, composed of black frock coat, waistcoat, and tailored pants—and so the standard male university uniform, or traje, was born. The cumbersome old cloak very nearly went out of commission then, but the boys had reportedly grown so attached to its drama that they kept wearing it over the new suits. School authorities allowed the cloak to remain, proudly anachronistic, to sweep the cobblestones of Coimbra another day. When the country’s second and third universities were founded in 1911, in the cities of Lisbon and Porto, students rushed to adopt the same weirdly popular suit-and-cloak combo.

Students from the Orfeão Universitário do Porto, a student association at the University of Porto, pictured in their trajes in 1956
Students from the Orfeão Universitário do Porto, a student association at the University of Porto, pictured in their trajes in 1956.
Lpmateus87, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Girls didn’t get a standard uniform until 1945, when the Orfeão Universitário do Porto, a student association at the then-young University of Porto, accepted the first female members into its roster. (Before then, women didn't have any particular school attire, although they were sometimes told to wear all black so as not to stand out.) Members of the Orfeão were expected to perform traditional Portuguese singing and dancing in full uniform, and the girls rose to the occasion by suiting up in their very own, alternate version of the traje. They found their inspiration in the stripped-down practicality of military women’s uniforms and settled on a knee-length trapeze skirt and boxy three-button jacket. The cloak, of course, was the final touch, which quickly caught on at other schools.

Today, there are over 300,000 university students in Portugal, a respectable number of whom routinely wear the traje to class. It is no longer mandatory, as it once was, but it doesn’t need to be. To wear this historic uniform is to embrace and broadcast one’s identity as a student—although it’s also to be frequently confused with a Harry Potter cosplayer. Foreign visitors to Portugal sometimes make that mistake, but they should know the opposite is likelier to be true: Local students have been wearing cloaks to class since long before Harry Potter was cool.

Family Game Night Just Got a Lot Cozier With This Inflatable Twister Game

Hammacher Schlemmer & Company
Hammacher Schlemmer & Company

With the potential for strained muscles and painful tumbles on your living room floor, Twister doesn't have a reputation for being the most comfortable board game. This unofficial version of the activity should hopefully lead to less bruising. As PopSugar reports, Hammacher Schlemmer & Company has upgraded the classic Twister mat to become a giant, inflatable play-board.

The inflatable game has all the elements of the original Twister: There are red, green, yellow, and blue dots (16 of each color) lined up on a white surface and a spinning wheel that shows you which limb to place where.

Normally the board is a flat sheet, but this one resembles a super-sized blow-up mattress. It measures 15 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 inches tall. A 1-hp air blower is included, and you can keep it running as you play so you don't have to worry about the board deflating and throwing off your balance. The game, which is capable of supporting up to 1500 pounds, is the perfect outdoor party accessory.

Contorting your body in relative comfort will cost you: The inflatable game costs $2000—about 100 times the price of a regular Twister board. If you can't resist adding it to your game collection, you can order it from Hammacher Schlemmer's website.

[h/t PopSugar]

The Bird or Bunny Optical Illusion Could Have You Second-Guessing Your Eyesight

jamesvancouver/iStock via Getty Images
jamesvancouver/iStock via Getty Images

The internet can't resist a mind-bending illusion. Some of the most popular ones to go viral feature content that can be interpreted two ways: The infamous dress ignited a web-wide controversy over whether it was black and blue or white and gold, and the "yanny or laurel" audio clip messed with people's ears instead of their eyes. The latest illusion the internet can't agree on is a video of someone petting a raven—or is it a rabbit? Watch the clip below and decide for yourself.

Paige Davis, the curator of bird training at the World Bird Sanctuary, shared this video of a white-necked raven more than two years ago. A biological psychiatry researcher named Dan Quintana recently found the clip on Imgur's Twitter account and tweeted it with the caption: "Rabbits love getting stroked on their nose."

"By first directing the viewer's attention to the nose, I was trying to distract viewers from the ears/beak, one of the clear giveaways that this was a video of a raven," Quintana wrote in a blog post.

With its head tilted back, it's easy to mistake the raven's beak for bunny ears and the top of its head for a nose. But a few details—like its translucent nictitating membrane that closes across the eye horizontally—indicate that it's really a bird.

This video is a real-life version of one of the most famous illustrated illusions of all time. Like the raven vs. rabbit clip, this drawing, sketched by American psychologist Joseph Jastrow in 1899, depicts either a duck facing left or a bunny facing right. There is no "right" way to view this illusion: Jastrow drew it to see how fast viewers could switch from one perception to the other.

Even though we know which animal the subject of this latest illusion really is, it still works with Jastrow's test: Watch the clip again and see if you can force your mind to go back and forth between seeing a bird and a rabbit. After that exercise, here are some more optical illusions to break your brain.

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