Carmen’s bullfighter lover made the cape popular.
Sherlock Holmes? Guess again.
Little Red Riding Hood? Sorry.
Sir Walter Raleigh? You’re way off base.
The cape was born of necessity to protect man and his mate from the cold and rain and to use as a cover when sleeping. Capes or drapery have existed as long as the stars and moon.
They make their appearance throughout history as Egyptian apron coats; Greek chlamys, chiton and himations; Roman togas and mantles; African burnouses; Gothic palliums, mediaeval cloaks and bliauds; 17th century mantaux and flying gowns; 18th century shawls, stoles and pelisses; 19th century tippets, boas, capelets, redingotes, mantalets, canezous, Invernesses, carricks and paletots; 20th -21st century panchos, wraps and cocoons.
Well, it certainly keeps me warm but there’s got to be a better way! They came in all materials, lengths and styles; unadorned, furred and bejeweled. They hid secret documents, lovers’ trysting notes, stolen chickens. In a more romantic vein they were indispensable groundcovers for picnics and flashy backdrops for Errol Flynn’s swordplay.
At varying points in history the type of cape you wore was regulated by law according to your position in society. Hoods were added in Roman England as a sign of humility; the Gothic rich only could have fasteners of brooches. Around the 17th century capes began to wane as a primary outer covering as man sought sleeved garments for more adequate protection against the weather.
Capes became more a decorative accessory. It was WW I with its simple tailored-line dictates and the Chanel sweater of the 1920s which eclipsed the cape. Most likely, though, the cape will never loose its appeal. Somehow it will find a way to hang on in fashionable style. Shown here are capes through the ages plus a basic circular cape pattern to dress your special doll from an 1886 Delineator. Cape photo gallery.
Sources: The Mode in Costume, Costumes and Styles, Sears 1933 catalog.
Egypt: king in long apron and coat Ancient Greece: a man of action in chlamys and broad-brimmed hat.
Ancient Rome: regal lady in under tunic with stolla palla North Europe 1st century AD: Briton in plaid woolen tunic with woolen mantle and gold jewelry Byzantine: princess in white tunic, green mantle lined with purple; cerise boots; gold and jeweled embroidery.
Italian medieval 13th century: royalty in brocaded robe with purple mantle, embroidery and jewels France 15th century: a noble, manly pose in brocaded gold cloak, lined and edged with fur over white shirt and red tights Spain 16th century: matron in gold cloth brocaded gown and white headdress under black mantle Spain mid-16th century: gay blade in black with white tulle, taffeta lined cape; silk hat with rose feather; embroidered doublet England mid-16th century: a noblewoman in cloth mantle with fur collar and jeweled hood over black jewel velvet gown
France 1789, the hedgehog look: pale blue satin pelisse with mink and mink muff over violet gown with violet silk train and cerise & violet ribboned hair 1884: ermine cape stole and muff over black silk gown with green velvet bonnet/grey feather.
1850s: milady swathed in burnous of white and green stripes with green velvet tassel and bonnet over green silk gown.
England 1880s: a dapper gent in a smashing Inverness coat cape of plaid wool with woolen cap and cloth-top shoes England 1883: another milady in brown plush pelisse trimmed in beaver with brown velvet hat with red and yellow flowers and grey plumes.
1895: what the ladies strolled in –black taffeta summer cape with accordion pleated frills, white lawn collar and lace jabot over pleated light cloth dress 1909: strutting her stuff in evening wrap of mauve velvet with black velvet collar, gold trim over black velvet gown with paradise in hair.
1925: still more strutting — another enveloping cape, all fur, to show off at the theatre.
1933: the capelet frock to be made of silk 1947 France haute couture: Grès designed this circular cape made of grey flannel.
1956: Dior’s cocoon silhouette cape of featherweight blue and white tweed, self-tie collar, slots for sleeves 12″ doll’s cape pattern from an 1886 Delineator.
Four capes in 2 styles from one pattern by using any combination shown for one, two or three layer capes, collar or collarless. Cut two on fold for each layer used. Cape can be squared or rounded. ¼” seam allowance. Pattern shown actual size for 12″ doll; can easily be reduced or enlarged. Any fabric is suitable including eyelets for summer dresses.
Many movies featured these capes as theater or opera wear in black velvet lined with brilliant green silk and ribbon or dark soft green velvet lined with bright rose- does that bring back any memories?
The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960. To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.
Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.
Oh, Those Huggable, Cape-able Shoulders