Long maligned as being unnecessary and old-fashioned, the cape is slowly regaining its place in wardrobes as people are finding many reasons and needs for something that was once a mainstay of every closet. While the cape has never really gone away, it is safe to say that in modern times that capes are vastly underutilized and to an extent, stigmatized. Today hopefully that stigma can be removed from the cape.
Straightforward and Simple
The cape, because of its simple construction, being a length of fabric with a fastener to go around the neck, was used in older times because it was easy to get around the more elaborate dresses and suits of the time. Capes protected the outfit from the elements and grime of dirty city streets, while depending on the composition could be everything a light protective cover in summer to a way to bundle against the cold of winter. Another advantage of the cape is that it is easy to take on and off, just undo the button, tie or other fastener around the neck and it can be taken off.
As fashions changed, the cape fell out of favor for most people. As clothing simplified, more form fitting coats and coverups were wearable, pushing the cape out of favor for most people. While capes were used less, there were still segments of society whom wore capes. This is the best place to discuss the first occasion for wearing a cape.
Capes through history
Capes because of their historic relevance, are a large part of costumes. Many classic characters based anywhere from the Renaissance to the Victorian Era need a cape to complete their outfit. Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, Little Red Riding Hood and many other characters use a cape in order to fit with the period of time they were portrayed. From a cosplay sense, even a general character from this time would more likely wear a cape than a sleeved, button-up coat in most cases.
Another aspect of capes as costumes involves a more modern era of characters. Many superheroes wear capes and it is difficult to picture Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or many other superheroes without a cape. Whether it is Halloween, a comic book convention or just play time, a cape is a must. While the infamous scene from The Incredibles claims that no living superhero should wear a cape, what comes to mind for most heroes has them wearing them.
But very few people are actually superheroes, going to comic book conventions or Renaissance fares. Regardless, many wardrobes can use a cape or several capes. Capes add drama to outfits. Whether it comes from its use in fiction or fiction found this form on its own, with the right usage, a cape can add an accent piece or a compliment and tie together an outfit. Leave it loose and you have an extra layer to highlight other parts of your ensemble. Close it up and you have a mystery of what is underneath until you choose to reveal it.
Drama notwithstanding, there are cases where the covering provided by a cape can have other functions. The first obviously is for warmth or protection from weather. A light cape can be used to keep sun or rain off the body without constricting the body and preventing heating up. A heavier cape can be used for protection from wind and cold and give warmth. This feature also is helpful if there is a feature of an outfit that requires either shielding from rain or sun or is constructed in a way which make a coat impossible or unworkable.
Another case for the cape is the comfort provided by the cape. It is free flowing, allowing for the arms to move freely which can make driving, or riding a bicycle or horse among any other possible cases where there is benefit to arms being unencumbered. Also, as mentioned before, capes are as simple to make as they are to take on and off. Since a cape is usually just a piece of hemmed fabric with some way to secure it around the neck, it slips into and out of as needed, or just as simple to move off the body and nearby if needed. This simplicity allows for almost any fabric and any pattern would make for a cape, let alone any sort of embellishment if desired. This again can goes back to the element of drama that capes can add to an outfit, as the cape can be used by a fashion forward thinker to accent an outfit or conceal it until the wearer is ready to reveal a surprise or a change.
For a fashion piece that is more for an accent and less for function is the capelet. A capelet is just the upper part of the cape, the cloture around the neck with the cape itself ending usually above the middle of the torso. This can be used to compliment or accent an outfit without being as involved as capes could be. Sometime an outfit needs a bit of contrast in pattern or color, which a capelet is ideal for as it is not obtrusive nor encumbering at all. But besides the ornamental aspects, the capelet serves no function.
For men, another place that the cape has remained in use is for sports like football where the body is much too large for a coat that will fit comfortably and be easy to remove. Being able to slip a cape over pads can keep a player from getting too wet or too cold when not playing, which especially in football where many players stand and wait to be substituted, is of utmost importance.
But beyond costumes and sports, there are places where a cape can make a lot of sense for a man. First is that the simple elegance of a cape can give the wearer impact in many situations. This goes back to the drama and mystery that capes can add to an outfit. Also, the cape can much more easily conceal a weapon or a package, which can be helpful for personal security. Also, because of the looseness of a cape, a weapon can be unleashed without much difficulty if the situation requires it.
As mentioned before, a couple of centuries in the past, capes held a much higher place in fashion and were often a sign of importance of the wearer. Many men are finding that this connotation has not completely gone away and see the amount of respect given to them with a smartly worn cape. With the increased popularity of Game of Thrones and other period dramas, the prestige of capes is only rising for men and they are finding there way back to their place in the wardrobes of the well dressed men.
Women on the other hand have not seen the cape disappear from fashion in the same way that men have over the last couple of centuries. A combination of the need for protection from weather and dirt when outside, fashions that have had construction that does not follow the form of the body and the general effect that a cape can have to the right outfit have ensured that the cape has never completely fallen out of favor in women’s fashion.
Much like with men, the mystery of the cape is its greatest benefit in modern fashion. A cape can be used to conceal a daring outfit and give the wearer control of when it is revealed. There is a risk to wearing a cape to this effect, if the outfit does not impress, the cape will likely have been superfluous and unnecessary. When it works though, it makes the woman in the cape the center of attention both before and after they remove it – if they do so at all. Women who wear capes like this wear their sophistication and fashion sense with confidence.
Children, much like men, are not as fashion-minded to concern themselves with the effect of capes. But with children the utility of capes make them potentially vital to be included in their wardrobes. In smaller children, especially those who need to ride in car seats, a cape gives an extra layer of warmth that can easily be moved out of the way when needing to put on a car seat harness. With the danger presented by using harnesses with winter coats and the difficulty in putting on and removing a coat, a cape is an easy solution to what is an obvious problem.
As children get older, a cape that they can easily take on and off is useful, especially in more temperate times of year. Beyond the utility, capes can fire up the imagination in children, allowing them to conceal things both literally and figuratively. And not just for costumes and play time, putting your child in a cape as opposed to a jacket or sweatshirt gives them a feeling of uniqueness and individuality as well as maybe playing into their superhero fantasies.
The simplicity of the form of a cape allows for many options for how to dress it up if desired. Since there are no need for more than a button or a tie-down to secure the cape to the user, there are numerous ways that a cape can be accented to give it flair or other utility. Capes for the most part usually have a collar, but can have hoods to give more protection to the wearer in inclement weather. As well, decorations from bachelor buttons, appliques, embroidery or decorative stitching can be added to a cape without much trouble or concern over contours like sleeves or legs to be concerned with.
Regardless of age, need or gender, capes can be a part of any wardrobe. Whether looking for a dramatic addition to an outfit, a simple shell for warmth or protection from the elements or just part of a costume, the possible uses and needs for capes are endless.