A farewell to arms: Will the cape trend catch on?

Should you swap your coat for a cape, this season's statement outerwear? Yes, says Rhiannon Harries, while Carola Long gives the trend the cold shoulder

FOR: Rhiannon Harries

Despite the appealing insouciance of the expression, there are few stylish items of clothing that one can honestly claim to have "thrown on". Not so the cape, however. In fact, the act of slinging a cape around one's shoulders pretty much sums up the appeal of what will, if designers have their way, be the outerwear of the season – relaxed, artless, yet undeniably theatrical and dynamic. You could hardly say the same of struggling with the toggles on last winter's hipster choice – the duffle coat – could you? For all its simplicity, the cape is one of the hardest working garments in fashion this season, popping up in multiple forms across the catwalks – often within the same collection – and lending itself to all manner of contrasting aesthetics.

Some of the references are familiar. Hussein Chalayan accessorised a voluminous camel version with binoculars for an old-school explorer vibe, at Missoni the rough-hewn patchwork knit had a nomadic, tribal feel, and it was all hunting and fishing with quilting and houndstooth at Daks. Elsewhere, the cape proved it could rise to more unexpected challenges.

Alexander Wang's smart, mannish offering eschewed soft volume for sharp shoulders and straight lines. Erdem and Jaeger used hand embroidery and cut-out details, respectively, to emphasise that its practicality could be matched by prettiness. And at Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati brought out the cape's subversive side, offsetting the primness of waist-length versions by rendering them in transparent PVC (bravo, Signor Pilati – more designer clothes should be wipe-clean I feel).

My favourite cape, however, though was the show-stopper at Celine. Knee-length white sheepskin, it looked like all your Christmases rolled into one gloriously cosy, glamorous garment. And that, in a nutshell, is the beauty of the cape; comfort and style in generous and equal measure. Cape refuseniks will tell you that they are impractical and seriously restrict your arms, but unless you have a day of semaphore practice planned, the inconvenience is slight. I speak from experience, having spent most of last winter in a cape (such is the central heating in my house that I wore mine to bed on a couple of occasions).

Make no mistake, I may have been an early convert but I'm by no means an adventurous dresser. Ordinarily, I am too lazy to buy into high fashion looks involving towering heels or complicated necklines and too self-conscious for serious, statement pieces. So I was delighted to find that wrapping myself in what was essentially a nice, warm blanket with a couple of gold buttons (vintage St Michael by Marks & Spencer courtesy of my great aunt) garnered more approval from stylish peers than anything else I've owned. In fact, it was such a roaring success, it meant I could wear even more boring clothes than usual underneath and all was forgiven.

While interviewing the American singer Rufus Wainwright, he barely seemed aware of my presence in the room until I stood up to go and put on my cape. "That is soooo cute!" he drawled, suddenly full of a new-found respect. I should never have taken the darn thing off. And if the superficial and fleeting warmth of a pop star isn't enough to convince you, remember that in a British winter you will spend so much time in your coat that you will come to be partly defined by it. So if you are aiming for Grace Kelly on Oscars night then you'll take my advice and invest in Halston Heritage's divine black cashmere cape. If, however, you'd rather be Kenny from South Park, then, by all means, buy a parka.

AGAINST: Carola Long

Way back last winter, when capes appeared on the catwalk as a major trend, I was quite excited about them. Here was a piece we hadn't seen for a while; a rather novel and dramatic addition to the outerwear themes that tend to come and go on rotation; military detailing, leather jackets or boyfriend coats. As autumn closes in, however, and the time to buy a cape is nigh, guess what? I've lost interest. The cape is one of those items I happily flirted with from a safe distance, but when it comes to making the relationship permanent I've got cold feet (and potentially cold arms and a cold stomach). It's just not a serious coat, a keeper like a peacoat or a cosy blanket wrap style.

I don't loathe capes; they don't make me shudder in the way that clip-in hair extensions or the words "unexpected item in bagging area" do. I'll admit they have a certain dramatic, and sometimes sweetly eccentric charm, but perhaps some of that originality is cancelled out when it's a trend with a capital T. And in a season focusing on so-called real clothes – on understated, pure and practical pieces – the cape seems a bit of an attention-seeking anomaly. Like very small bags that denote that the wearer is a streamlined fashion goddess who doesn't need to carry around such pedestrian stuff as tissues and umbrellas, the cape is for people who don't worry about trailing garments getting stuck in Tube doors in a horrible rush-hour version of Isadora Duncan in her Bugatti or other prosaic matters such as getting pneumonia from cold draughts.

Capes also limit what you wear, because they work best with trousers, preferably peg, straight or skinny ones. Pair one with a maxi skirt and you could look like the grim reaper. With an A-line skirt? Too triangular. Wide trousers, too, need a slimmer line on top to balance out the proportions. Capes are a classic good-on-the-hanger or catwalk piece; the white furry Celine version looks like quite the most sophisticated cosy piece you could wish to own, but in everyday life isn't there a danger of resembling an overgrown child playing a sheep in the school nativity play?

And there's the thing; for every free spirited style icon who makes the cape look achingly cool there's a risk of resembling Dracula, Little Red Riding Hood, Batgirl and numerous other superheroes. Edna Mode the wardrobe mistress character in The Incredibles who evokes Anna Wintour and Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, certainly wouldn't approve of this particular trend. When designing outfits for Mr and Mrs Incredible she recounts the superheroes whose flowing robes have caused their demise before decreeing, "no capes." Even the new Sherlock Holmes has traded in his cape for a much more dashing greatcoat.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk