The history of fashion would be nothing without fabrics. For cloaks, capes and capelets a wide range of fabrics were used including wool, figured cloth,
satin, silk, pleated chiffon, velvet, velveteen, bourdon lace, lace, moiré, taffeta and
mourning crepe. They were trimmed to perfection with passementerie, beading,
ribbon, lace, Russia Soutache cord, appliqué, braid and cutwork either all on one
garment or focusing on one or two techniques perhaps at the edge or neckline of
the cape and maybe around pocket contours.
Cape lengths varied from the short fichu style puritan capes, which barely
covered the shoulder line, to full sweeping floor length cloaks. Around
the mid 1890s the multi-tiered shoulder cape with high collar was especially
fashionable, and high collared styles continued for some years.
Etiquette books advised ladies making up their trousseaus to ensure they had
at least 2 or 3 evening wraps (capes) among their purchases.
The short layered shoulder capes of the early to mid 1890s were often made of
flimsy materials such as lace and chiffon and bordered on being a capelet or
otherwise a fichu pelerine
the shorter they were. In the main capes of 1893-4 settled above or on the
waist. By 1895 many were just that bit longer at the waist and
To illustrate this, the first set of 6 capes I have drawn rest roughly at the
waist or even above it and would have been made from lace or lightweight fabrics
including layered semi sheers.
Short Layered Capes of 1893 and 1894
The second set of 4 capes below with appliqué and fur rest just below the
waist and would have been made of cashmere, alpaca and winter weight Melton
wool cloths or heavy ribbed or figured silks which were quilted and lined
inside, and beautifully fitted with one or two inner secret pockets.
Designs were ornate and often followed the curvilinear trailing art
nouveau forms seen everywhere at the time. Exquisite embellishment work,
such as couched down flora, trailing leaf and curlicue patterns were
particularly found on capes. Such cloaks illustrate how the Edwardians had
reached the pinnacle of the art of high living through the clothing worn by the
Edwardian lady, who was regarded as a social representative of her husband.
All capes and cloaks could be trimmed with fur like Russian sable or feathers. Fabric trims such as ruched chiffon, moiré or velvet and ornate macramé fringe
were all used to create variety and add interest to a very basic shape. All
could be lined with self colour or contrast silk or quilted with a batted lining
and all usually had a small secret inner pocket for a lady’s items. The cosy
linings protected pampered Edwardians from the cooler elements.
Appliqué, braid and cutwork were especially popular combinations with fur
trim as the contrast of textures created a great deal of garment interest.
From 1895 collars on capes became higher and higher and by 1900 collars
matched the very high dog collar styles on dresses and blouses. They often
combined elements from the 1890s with chiffon pleat trims and appliqué.
Heavy jet passementerie on mourning capes was very popular, particularly in
the secondary mourning period when embellishment could be tastefully added.
Until 1910 full length cloaks and capes were still worn, but after that date
became rarer by day and many women favoured wearing a coat. Mainly older women wore cloaks after 1900 and it became a
mature fashion. However as mature women were the fashion leaders it was usual to
see some variety of styles between a coat which was full length or just below
the knee and showing visible skirt or similar length cloaks. Women who
still adored the opulence of cloaks continued to have them made in luxurious
fabrics trimmed with furs like ermine.
Longer Capes that Merged into Coat Styles
Between 1900 and 1914 a huge variety of coat styles could be bought. Loose dust
coats (dusters) for car use and intended to cover a wide range of outfits were ever a popular
choice for the elite. Straighter coats became usual 1910-14 and they had low
shawl type collars to the first fastening.
The new oriental style cocoon coats also helped the demise of capes as the all
enveloping nature of the cocoon coat fulfilled a similar function that the cape or cloak had previously.
Likewise innovative styles from new thinking designers used elements of the cape
to create new coat styles similar to the one sketched above after a 1913 Erte
The cape in the header is circa 1916 and despite the fact that capes were
less worn then, this one is particularly pert and attractive and would have
balanced the full skirted shorter length crinoline of the inter war years
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