Diversionary Tactics

While bogged down in the fitting of these wool slacks, my mind has been thinking about capes instead. 

Almost ready for the waistband!
But first – finish inserting the lapped zipper and the silk lining.

I know myself well enough to recognize it is always prudent to work on the least favorable item first and save the ”goodies” for later, and that is what I have done with this cape and slacks ensemble introduced in my last post.  There is a reason I have made few pairs of slacks in my years of sewing:  I find fitting them tedious.  So, while I think I am just about satisfied with how they are coming along, the thing which has kept me sane is the prospect of making that beautiful cape. 

All of this has led me to do a little research into capes.  I started with Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, as I often do when investigating a sewing/fashion topic.  Well, oh my!   There happen to be no fewer than 8 pages of entries for capes, cloaks, and shawls!  It turns out a cape is not just a cape, and the history of capes is long indeed.  For my purposes here, the simple definition of a cape is sufficient:  “Sleeveless outerwear of various lengths usually opening in center front; cut in a full circle, in a segment of  a circle, or on the straight – usually with slits for arms.  A classic type of outerwear worn in one form or another throughout history….”  (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003)

Interestingly, Christian Dior has no entry for capes in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, another one of my go-to reference books.  But as luck would have it, the newest J. Peterman Company catalogue, Owners Manual No. 197, Holidays 2021, arrived in my mailbox this week.  And there on page 5, he has offered for sale a Plaid Wool Cape, with the enticing caption:  “Capes are mysterious.  Alluring.  Functional. In the past, they’ve existed as an alternative to coats so you wouldn’t crush your real clothing…”  He goes on to say one will not want to take off this particular cape, as there could be nothing better under it.  Well, I guess that’s an arguable point, but you get the picture.  Capes demand attention, but in a good way.

I started thinking about the patterns I have gathered over the years, and I remembered at least two which feature capes.  Once I got into my pattern collection, I found four besides the one I am currently using.  

The earliest one is clearly this Vogue Couturier Design from the second half of the 1950s.

Its description reads:  “Suit and Reversible Cape.  Easy fitting jacket with concealed side pockets buttons below shaped collar.  Below elbow length sleeves.  Slim skirt joined to shaped waistband.  Reversible, collarless cape has arm openings in side front seams.”  I think this is pretty spectacular, and while the suit is lovely, it is enhanced many times over by the addition of the short cape.

Next is this Advance pattern from the 1960s, a cape in two lengths.  

The more I look at capes, the more I think I like the shorter versions.

I was attracted to this pattern because of its lengthwise darts, its rolled collar and back neckline darts.  

This diagram from the back of the envelope shows the finesse of the design.

The 1970s is represented by the Molyneux pattern I am using and two more: a Pucci design and a Sybil Connolly design.

I purchased the Pucci pattern for the dress (which I now believe to be too “youthful” for me), but its cape certainly completes the outfit.  The description reads:  “…Cape with jewel neckline has arm openings in side front seams; back vent [which I find interesting}.  Top-stitch trim.”

And the final cape pattern I own – almost a capelet – is this Sybil Connolly design.  The caption states “…Short asymmetrical flared cape has side button closing.”  No arm slits in this cape.  

I actually made this cape a number of years ago, but I must admit I have worn it infrequently.  The wide stance of the neckline makes it a little unstable.  I guess there is a good reason most capes have a tighter neckline – and open in the center front.  

So there is my whirlwind cape tour. What do you think?  Are capes alluring and mysterious?   Functional and sophisticated?  I, for one, think capes have a slightly romantic charm to them. Do you?  


Filed under Advance vintage patterns, Capes, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

17 responses to “Diversionary Tactics

  1. Mery

    Oooh, I like all of these. I’m a cape wearer, but I have never yet made one. You have inspired me.
    I understand about fitting pants. Once the pattern is fitted, it doesn’t take long to make multiples, but, oh, the fitting can be tedious beyond reason.

    • My problem with fitting pants is that even though I think I have perfected my muslin, somehow it doesn’t seem to translate to the fashion fabric. And it has been such long time since I made a pair of pants, I needed to tweak the questionable muslin I had! As you can guess I’m much more excited about the cape!

  2. Mery

    I forgot to mention: yours look great already.

  3. Hi, I still really like the fabric you are using! I too am bogged down in pants fitting right now, compounded by having lost 10 pounds since the last fitted toile. Maddening!
    You have me thinking about making a cape – for dog walking, if nothing else! Seems like it would be easy to put on. Your target pattern is my favorite of your collection.😊

  4. Linda Dubuque

    Hello again, Thanks for writing this post. When I see it show up in email I excitedly drop everything. Priorities! I thoroughly enjoy reading what you’ve posted recently and I’m slowing working my way through the older posts as well (newbie here). BTW, the seam matching on those trousers is spot on! Impeccable! My goodness I want them for myself. All of the cape paterns look fabulous and I can’t decide which is best. Thanks for mentioning the Dictionary and that you have the third edition. I was able to purchase the same for around $7 instead of the $30 for edition 4. I figured if the 3rd is good enough for you, it is perfect for me. Thank you again for writing and sharing such important details! Eagerly awaiting your next post on this project! It’s looking beautiful (and expensive!).
    Best regards,
    Linda D.

    • I think you will really enjoy Fairchild’s Dictionary. I could get lost for hours reading the entries – it is all so fascinating. Thank you so much for your lovely compliment on this blog. Readers like you help to keep me at it!

  5. Karen, I’ve never worn a cape. This garment has always seemed to me to be more of a fashion statement from the past. I now see how wrong I’ve been. I envy you the joy and challenge of making this cape and then the marvelous thrill of wearing it with your pants. You will look fabulous. I anxiously await the photos. My admiration of your skills continues.

    • Thank you, Peggy. Hopefully I am one of those people who can wear cape and not look like nurse from the 1950s! I guess I’ll know soon enough – I’ll be happy to just look good; “fabulous” would be icing on the cake!

  6. Marguerite

    Pants are one of those easy to sew but hard to fit items. I love a nice fitting pair of pants, especially wool ones, but today’s fashion leans towards jeans or stretch pants. One thing I noticed on a trip to Milan a few years back were the beautiful pants and suits worn by women of all ages.
    I have several cape patterns in my stash but haven’t worn one in decades. I always liked the look of a short cape over a matching coat.
    I’m very excited about your project!

    • Yes, pants are very straightforward to sew – it is the fitting that is difficult. I feel like I can really use a pair of wool pants, for warmth if nothing else! I agree about a short cape over a matching coat – very chic!

  7. Karen, if you’re interested in seeing a cape being worn today, please take a peak at the blog I follow – https://lilibetshandbag.blog/open-post-italian-state-visit-to-spain/ – and you’ll find Queen Letizia wearing a cape. She looks very stylish.

    • I can’t tell you enough how much I loved looking at this link. I really think that length cape is perfect. Queen Letizia does look so lovely and stylish in her cape. What a wonderful look! Thank you, Peggy, for sending this along.

  8. Linda D.

    Burda Style has a how-to on capes. It was in my inbox today and I thought of this discussion. Here is a link that I copied w my smartphone:

  9. The wonderful artwork on the vintage patterns adds to the mystery and glamor of the cape! I’m like you, I prefer the shorter versions. Yours is going to be wonderful! On a side note: O my, J. Peterman! (swoon) I thought the company had closed! At 45, after years of being a divorcee, I got married again (the best was saved for last). I wore a soft gold silk dress from the J. Peterman catalog! Thank you for reuniting us! xo

    • I love reading the J. Peterman catalog. Of course, I love anything with a clever story to it, and so many entries have that feature. It was fun to learn of your special dress from that company!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.