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The Costume of the Ku Klux Klan is perhaps the most distinctive feature of that organisation, and is recognised worldwide. It is sometimes known as the 'Glory Suit' by those who wear it, and many pejoratives by the Klan's numerous opponents.
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The origins of the use of the costume are unclear. Although the organization has no relationship with Spain, the contemporary white gown with a cone hat follows the Spanish Roman Catholic "Nazareno" tradition. Such garments have been traditionally used in festivities such as Holy Week, symbolizing the act of penance. In Spain and its former colonies, the pointed hat is called "Capirote".
The film The Birth of a Nation has been suggested as the model that stimulated adoption of elements of certain dress and regalia by the second KKK (founded in 1915). However, the film shows the Klansmen wearing a variety of costumes, and there is far less 'standardization'. For example, rather than the well-known conical hats, the film shows a number of Klansmen in what are effectively 'flat' hoods, with a pole sticking up, as if to resemble medieval armor.
Robes of the nineteenth century KKK were of various colors. In the twentieth century, the second KKK adopted white as the standard color.
Late twentieth century manifestations of the KKK in small groups has meant a wider variation in robes. Some groups use colored robes for higher ranks.
Some klans use all-white robes regardless of rank. For those that use robes of different colors most use:
- Purple --- Imperial Wizard
- Green --- Grand Dragon
- Reddish-purple --- Great Titan
- Black --- Knighthawk (security)
- Red --- Kleagle
The Knighthawk's black robe is usually shorter so as to allow easier movement.
The M.I.O.A.K. (Mystic Insignia Of A Klansman) is a red, round patch worn over the left breast of a Klansmans robe.
It has a large "X" in the middle with a "K" in each corner of the "X" for Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The current organization has splintered, but a number of successor organizations use what is effectively similar costume. The major factions currently include the Imperial Klans of America, The Louisiana White Knights and the Knights of the White Camellia
The Ku Klux Klan costume has appeared in several modern day cultural references, some comical and others slightly more serious. Examples include:
- The character Eric Cartman in the TV series South Park appears to be dressed as a Klansman for Halloween when his principal makes a ghost costume with a pointed hood (Ironically, she does so to provide a replacement for Cartman's Hitler costume). One of the show's black characters, Chef (voiced by Isaac Hayes), later screams and runs away when seeing Cartman, prompting the response "Wow, Chef's really scared of ghosts, huh?".
- In a different episode of South Park, the people of South Park wear white robes with pointed hoods to try and scare off the 'rich people' (who are incidentally all black) by 'dressing as ghosts'. They also burn 'lower case letter Ts' in their gardens, which is supposed to stand for 'Time to leave'. This is an obvious reference to the KKK.
- In yet another episode of South Park, some actual KKK members make an appearance, stating their agreement on keeping the South Park flag (depicting four white people standing at a gallows where a black man is hanged) the way it is, whereas Chef wishes to see it changed. Later in the episode a Klan meeting is witnessed and infiltrated by Jimbo and Ned (who also wish to see the flag remain; not for racist reasons, but rather because it's part of the town's history), and Jimbo makes the clever observation that the KKK should change its standpoint to wanting to change the flag, since everybody hates them (which all members acknowledge) and that no one would be likely to pick the side the KKK would be on. After successfully deciding this, the KKK members play a game of "Who's wearing the silliest thing under his robes".
- The British science fiction program The Tomorrow People displayed an alien known as "The Spidron" whose white robes and hood strongly resembled those of a Ku Klux Klansman.
- The science fiction series Quantum Leap had the main character Sam Beckett encountering the KKK several times in his time travel journeys, and at least once becoming a Klansman himself and wearing the KKK robes.
- The mini-series Roots contains a scene where a Confederate veteran is shown inventing an early KKK robe by accidentally burning two holes in a cloth sack with a cigar.
- Sam Fullers Shock Corridor (1964) takes place in a mental hospital. In one scene a black inmate who believes himself to be a racist white man, takes a pillow case with holes and a painted cross, puts it over his head and announces that he is going to found an organisation called "Ku-Klux-Klan".
- The film The Klansman features a young O.J. Simpson donning a KKK uniform to assassinate a KKK member.
- The film Blazing Saddles features Cleavon Little, the sheriff, and Gene Wilder, a gunslinger, posing as Klansmen in order to join the gang of villain Hedley Lamar. The joke is that Little is black, and Wilder is Jewish.
- The Austin Powers films regularly feature a Jerry Springer type show. In one instance, where the topic is "My father wants to take over the world", Dr. Evil sits beside a KKK robed guest. Dr. Evil gets in an argument with the KKK member and in typical immature fashion, steals the KKK member's hood and runs around the studio yelling "Got your hood, got your hood!"
- An episode of The Simpsons (episode 2F01, "Itchy and Scratchy Land") briefly featured a minor character known as Ku Klux Klam. Incidentally the Ku Klux Klan is also wearing white.
- Scary Movie 3 featured a white rapper who puts up a jacket hood unintentionally in the style of a pointed KKK hood and flashes the Klan salute in a rap club where most of the people were black. They then threw him into the trash full of wonderbread.
- The film O Brother, Where Art Thou? contains a scene at a KKK rally. The characters played by George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro stumble across the rally, where their black companion earlier in the film is about to be lynched. Disguised as Klansmen, the men try to rescue the black man, but John Goodman, playing a Klansman with one blind eye (with a hood with one eyehole) smells them and rats them out. All four men escape after snapping the cables propping up the fiery cross, making it fall down on top of Goodman. The rally is depicted as a Busby Berkely-style choreography, while the scene is set similar to that of The Wizard of Oz, with the Klansmen in the role of the Wicked Witch of the West's guard
- The April 15, 2006 episode of Fox's MADtv featured Jordan Peele playing Morgan Freeman pitching a show about himself growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s (styled after UPN's Everybody Hates Chris). We see young Morgan confronting Klansmen at his family's shack. After Morgan gives a stirring speech that moves the Klansmen, they conclude that "the colored boy has a presence," but proceed to burn down his house.
- Playwright Larry Shue's 1983 comedy The Foreigner revolves around Charlie, a shy Englishman, and his accidental discovery of a plot by local Klansmen to appropriate a young woman's inheritance money to fund their endeavors. As the Klansmen believe Charlie is a 'foreigner' from a non-English-speaking country, he becomes a secondary target of their criminal acts. The play climaxes in a showdown between Charlie and the Klansmen, who at this point are dressed in Klan regalia.
- The film Forrest Gump featured a man (played by Tom Hanks) named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Imperial Wizard of the KKK. The film shows Nathan Bedford Forrest riding a horse in Klan regalia.
- A scene from the Rock Opera Pink Floyd: The Wall contains Neo-Nazis dressed in regalia similar to both Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
- British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf's main character, Lister, wears kneepads with the KKK emblem (The White Camellia) on them. The irony is Lister is black.
- The 1989 film "Fletch Lives", which is about a journalist moving to the deep South to live in a recently inherited plantation manor, shows scenes with klansmen attempting to scare Fletch, Chevy Chase, off his property. Fletch wears a makeshift clan outfit made from bed sheets and joins in the groups' doings so he can figure out the underlying politics of the town he's just moved to.
- Dave Chappelle depicted a Klan leader who happened to be a blind black man who did not know he was black.
- American History X makes separate references to the Klan, one being that the neo-Nazi says they are not to be associated with the KKK, whom they see as a bunch of uneducated slobs who cannot organize a picnic. Another reference is when Guy Torry says to his annoyed fellow inmate that he bears no ill will towards sheets, except in one case, when he uses a pillowcase to impersonate a KKK member with a goofy accent in a comic manner.
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