Listen to this article
Here’s what the collective consciousness of coat consumers is saying right now: “With my slightly oversized mannish coat and practical parka, I thought I was sorted for winter. But now desire is creeping in. I want something with a bit of drama. Some swish. Kind of magical. A bit festive. I want . . . a cape.”
The autumn/winter catwalk had more capes than a superhero convention. At Saint Laurent, neat, thigh-length 1960s styles came in Red Riding Hood crimson, Sherlock Holmes-style check, and a rich black velvet. At Valentino, a floor-length hooded grey cloak embroidered with butterflies felt part-medieval, part-fairytale, as did Dolce & Gabbana’s green evening style with velvet hood, appliquéd with woodland imagery of foxes and branches. But wait! Dolce & Gabbana’s cape had sleeves, albeit tiny little sort-of sleeves poking out of the sides – doesn’t that make it a coat?
It’s a pertinent metaphysical question this season: where does the cape end and the coat begin? The answer should be with sleeves, but there are a host of loose coats with wide floppy arms that bridge the gap between the two. And then there’s the blanket coat, as seen at Chloé and The Row. Is it a cape, a poncho or just, well, a blanket? Stella McCartney’s houndstooth blanket coat may have wide sleeves, but it sits under the “cape” section of Net-a-Porter and is very drapey. Sacai’s lovely Aztec-patterned cape is very blanket-like, but just about qualifies as a cape.
Monica Ainley, social media editor at Joseph and proud owner of a navy knitted Joseph turtleneck cape, says: “In terms of the blanket/poncho/cape conundrum, I’d say same family, different genus. Blankets are a little more bohemian, though not aggressively so.”
Richard Nicoll’s grey cape with tailored lapels has slashes for arms, and imitates the current front-row vogue for wearing your coat unfastened across your shoulders. He is one of several designers to counter the notion that capes are impractical. “They are more versatile [than a coat] for different occasions and uncertain weather as they can be layered or thrown over light layers,” he says. The cape works better over a blazer or jacket than a coat, where the arms can look bulky.
In terms of styling, Ainley says, “if you have slender wrists and ankles, make sure they are on show. Complement the cape’s volume with a slim trouser or jean, and I usually stay away from miniskirts that might be obscured by the cape and potentially cause confusion.” Overall, a slim silhouette is key to offsetting the volume of a cape; too much fabric and you risk looking like the Grim Reaper, the Pope, or a refugee from Halloween.
It’s for evening that the cape really cuts a dash, though. The long white silk cape Jackie Kennedy wore to her husband’s inaugural ball in 1961 was the picture of classic glamour. Recreate it with Agnona’s white cashmere ice queen cloak, or with Saint Laurent’s black velvet cape, which when styled with thigh boots and a minidress is a more rock-and-roll way to cover up after dark. As Nicoll says, “The cape is less ‘normal’, and sexier than a coat.”