Fall fashion: The cape
Fashion's darling ... Is the cape a style gimmick or poetic perfection?
STYLE & ERROR One woman tests the trends of the day.
Why? Because Christian Dior, Ann Demeulemeester,
Yves Saint Laurent, Chloé,
Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, Carolina Herrera and Salvatore Ferragamo all showed them.
Trendology No need to go into the history. Suffice it to say that capes are ancient— the outerwear of choice of medieval warlocks, Roman centurions and Druids. But the burning issue is, What’s not a cape? Loosely defined as a garment without sleeves, “cape” pretty well covers everything from shawls and ponchos to capelets, shrugs, boleros, cloaks and your favourite blanket. This fall’s trend, however, is a rugged, mid-length cape in shearling, leather or heavy wool.
Unless you are a swashbuckler or superhero by nature, a cape is an extraordinarily difficult thing to pull off. My friend Bob likes to huddle in a hooded Prussian one that falls to the ankles. Being a fisherman, he wears his with fleece pants, which somewhat undercuts the drama of the cloak—but who can really tell what he has on under all that flowing cloth? And this, at least, solves the problem of what to wear with a cape: anything (as long as the cape is long enough).
When it comes to this season’s mid-lengthers, however, we can’t be let off the hook as easily as Bob. For one thing, as my friend Andrea points out, you can’t wear them with a knapsack or a shoulder bag, which means you are forced to carry a handbag. If you are wearing a day cape, like Marc Jacobs’ or Chloé’s, the bag should be fairly capacious, like a Birkin, to balance the volume of the cape. So, that’s the bag.
But what about the clothes? When I tried on the Carolina Herrera cape with a white shirt, velvet A-line skirt and flats, I felt like Little Red Riding Hood. The flats were the culprit. But when I switched to chunkier moccasin pumps, I instantly felt like a governess. “Orthopaedic,” commented my husband. My friend Heather offered this stern edict: “Capes have to be worn with tall leather
boots.” Following her advice, I put on a pair of low-heeled Maison Martin Margiela boots and jodhpurs. All that was missing was a riding crop and a stallion to lead to water. “Too costumey,” said my daughter, who is nine.
But her friend Poppy knew what the cape needed. Though Poppy is only 11, she has the seasoned eye of any big-city stylist. She rummaged through my closet and re-emerged with a pair of slim black Acne jeans and Chloé ankle wedges with ribbing around the top. “Here, try these on,” she said. Poppy had resolved the dilemma of the cape, countering its romantic, Heathcliffean aura with jeans and sleek boots. I flung the cape over my shoulders, put on a pair of plastic fangs and went out into the night.
8/10. Poppy can eyeball a room crammed with flea-market finds and fish out the only thing worth having from the mountains of clothes: a sepia-tinted polka-dot blouse bow-tied at the neck in Audrey Hepburn style. So when she rates the skinny jeans, boots and cape combo as “awesome,” that’s worth a solid 8.