While bogged down in the fitting of these wool slacks, my mind has been thinking about capes instead.
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.
I was attracted to this pattern because of its lengthwise darts, its rolled collar and back neckline darts.
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?