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As we all know, Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine appeared throughout The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi sporting his signature hooded cloak.

A close up of Darth Sidious' face in his hooded cloak

And a handsome devil he was too.

I'm unclear why exactly he wore a cloak during this time period, though. During the prequels it's understandable that the personas of Palpatine and Sidious needed to be distinctly separated. His plan for the Clone Wars and taking over the Senate necessarily required subterfuge. If Palpatine had been discovered to be working with the Separatists and the likes of Maul then it would have left his schemes in ruin. Using a cloak to disguise his appearance therefore makes sense when sending transmissions to the likes of Nute Gunray.

But when he had consolidated his power by becoming Emperor surely the need for secrecy was unnecessary. Any attempt to keep his Sith persona under-wraps and remain a simple politician (albeit an emperor) was because it suited his purposes politically to do so. However, if that was his intent then suddenly changing from wearing the garments of a Chancellor of the Republic to a creepy hooded robe associated with the Sith and the Jedi seems bizarre. Wouldn't his new clothing lead to unwelcome questions if all he wanted was an uncomplicated transfer from Chancellor Palpatine to Emperor Palpatine in the eyes of the public?

I haven't been able to find much other than joke answers online so far. I can think of a few possible explanations but don't have anything to back them up.

  • To hide his identity

    Maybe he really didn't want people to see his face or to know who he was. This doesn't really make any sense given that he was already famous galaxy-wide for being the Chancellor. Everyone knows who he is anyway.

  • Because that's what Sith wear

    Out-of-universe, this makes sense. The robes make him look evil and intimidating. However, this answer and this answer demonstrate to my satisfaction that he didn't want his Sith powers to be public knowledge.

  • Because he's Emperor so he can do what he wants

    This is the point made in the Reddit thread. Given that he starts wearing his hood straight after taking office and is still sticking with it 20 years later I can't help thinking there must be a more substantial reason than this.

  • Because he was self-conscious

    It's true that his encounter with Windu left him with some serious facial injuries. He says himself in his speech to the Senate that "the attempt on my life has left me scarred and deformed", and uses this to generate sympathy and to cast himself as the victim of Jedi aggression. I'm wondering if there's any evidence that he also felt embarrassed and humiliated by his appearance? Could he really have just worn the cloak because he was insecure?

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    maybe he just likes cloaks? – Megha Jul 22 at 0:17
  • I am going with "the emperor can do what he wants because nobody is badass enough to tell him otherwise". – RichS Jul 22 at 17:34
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Palpatine's robe, aside from being traditional Sith garb as has been pointed out already, was, I think, designed to make him appear like a simple old man to pretty much anyone who wasn't familiar with the truth of his power. I recall the Star Wars Visual Dictionary stating that Palpatine used his cane because he only pretended to be old and feeble, not because he actually needed assistance walking.

If you compare his outfit as the Emperor, where his only ornamentation is the black clasp on his robe, to the outfits he wore as a senator or as Supreme Chancellor, or indeed to the outfits of all of the senators, most of which were gaudy or extravagant and showed off at least a little, then the understatement of his simple black robe serves to separate him even more from both the "corrupt" time period of the Republic that he abolished and from the flashiness of the Senators he reviled.

When the Emperor is surrounded by his brigh-crimson guards and his assorted advisors in Return of the Jedi, his simple robe again contrasts with the more elaborate robes of the advisors, who wear multiple colors, have uniquely styled hats or headgear, and while they all look somewhat similar, they and the bright red of the Imperial Guard distract the eye from Palpatine to a degree. It's possible that, like the use of his cane, his simple robe is merely a form of camouflage to let him lurk behind the more elaborately dressed and therefore seem like an unassuming, elderly man.

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This was addressed in Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and it is simply to hide his face. Whether that is because he was disfigured or to hide his identity is left unclear.

Emperor Palpatine in The Visual Dictionary with a label to his hood saying "Hood to hide face"

On the same page it goes on to say:

Palpatine affected the simple clothing of a simple man, but drew his powers of persuasion and control from the blackest depths of the dark side of the Force. While the Force has twisted his face, it has also sustained him beyond his years, and even in his old age the Emperor remains a figure of terrible power.

Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary

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    So, for intimidating his subjects and for concealing his melty face – Valorum Jul 22 at 9:56
  • @Valorum It would seem that, far from wanting to intimidate, Sidious actually wanted to disarm. If his enemies think he's just a weak old man then they underestimate him and his powers. – The Dark Lord Jul 22 at 18:33
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It seems to be a characteristic thing for Dark Lords of the Sith to wear such cloaks. When Darth Maul meets with Darth Sidious on Coruscant, they both wear hooded cloaks, even though there is no one else present there from whom they might be hiding their identities. The are alone on a balcony at night, and yet they both remained cowled. Sidious is wearing the same garb when he meets with his other apprentice, Darth Tyranus, at the end of Attack of the Clones.

Sidious and Maul

Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader also wear cloaks, although of a more cape-like style, without cowls but covering the shoulders and held in place at the necks by chains. Vaders's is black, but Tyranus's is merely dark brown.

Darth Tyranus Darth Vader

These kind of cloaks seem to be the default garb for Sith, particularly Palpatine. While he was a political operator in a democratic system, he had to look the part of a man of the people—not hiding his face under a dark hood. However, once he had consolidated power enough to declare the Empire, he could revert to wearing his preferred outfit almost all the time.

Out of universe (and perhaps in universe as well), the dark cloaks contrast the Sith with garb typical of the Jedi, especially in the prequel trilogy. The Jedi also wear cloaks, but a lighter shades of brown. For the Emperor and Count Dooku, the outfits are also emblematic of their roles as frightening evil wizard and dark knight archetypes, respectively.

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    This is a case, of course, of 'tail wag dog'. The Emperor wears a robe because he's the anti-Jedi. Ben, however, originally wore a robe (in A New Hope) because he was living in the desert rather than because he was a Jedi. By the time the third film had rolled around, the association of Jedi with robes was established in the audience's minds – Valorum Jul 22 at 4:25
  • @Valorum Of course, that's right. I actually remember reading somewhere that the idea for Luke's costume in Return of the Jedi was that that garb was actually intended to represent traditional Jedi clothing. – Buzz Jul 22 at 5:05
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    The answers which I link to in the question seem to demonstrate pretty clearly that he didn't want the public at large to know he was a Sith. Why would he suddenly start wearing Sith clothing just because he was emperor, if he wanted a simple transfer of roles? – The Dark Lord Jul 22 at 8:06
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    "Alone on a balcony" in a planet wide city where if you fart, 5000 people are going to hold their noses. Look at the background of the picture of Sidious and Maul. Dozens of windows, and behind every window a potential spy making photos - or just a some pimply teenage twit trying to spot some tasty twi'lek goodies through windows or on balconies using his pocket telescope. – JRE Jul 22 at 11:08

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