When I interviewed for my current role at IMAGE, it was a nose-numbing crisp December day four years ago. Not only had I to pick the perfect interview outfit for my ideal job, I had the added angst of having to plan what to wear over it. In fact, my choice of outerwear became even more important than what lay beneath because I knew it was this item that would make the all-important first impression. To my mind, there’s nothing less sophisticated or less stylish than being inappropriately dressed for the weather (women who go bare-legged in winter baffle me).
How do you dress for your dream job in fashion? I wanted something that would suggest inherent style without shouting fashion slave, a piece that would infer competence and confidence. I decided to wear an almost knee-length wool cape, which I’d bought almost ten years previously. My thinking was that the dramatic silhouette tempered by the subdued shade of navy would strike just the right sartorial balance. It was bold but not brash, dramatic but not foolish, unexpected and modern.
The cape must have worked its magic. Not only was I offered the job, an elderly lady stopped me in the street on my way to the interview and told me that I looked like Audrey Hepburn. I’d call that a result, especially given that my cape was from high street store Reiss rather than by legendary French fashion house Givenchy, and I don’t look at all like Audrey Hepburn.
Not enough women wear capes. They seem to be the reserve of the fashion front row and fashion eccentrics like Rihanna, who wears them more as costume than clothing. At the 2015 Met Gala, the outlandish singer wore a turmeric-coloured, heavily embellished, fur-trimmed Guo Pei cape reminiscent of a Tudor coronation cloak. Of course, there are a myriad of associations with capes that could, in truth, deter the discerning dresser; nobody wants to look like Harry Potter, a Marvel superhero or Liberace (except perhaps Rihanna in the latter case). But then I think the key is that subtle distinction between cloak and cape. The former is full-length, whereas the latter is calf-length at its longest, but more often sits above the knee or on the hip. Cloaks are worn by fictional wizards and masked men, and the language around them is all a little Mystic Meg… cloak-and-dagger, cloaked in secrecy, a troubled cloak.
Capes, on the other hand, are much more Meghan Markle than Mystic Meg. The Duchess of Sussex chose an incredibly chic Stella McCartney cape dress for the Queen’s 92nd birthday celebrations earlier this year. Even the Duchess of Cambridge, a more conservative dresser than her sister-in-law, floated into an official royal dinner in Norway wearing an ethereal Alexander McQueen blush floor-length gown with chiffon cape overlay. Both showcased beautifully how a cape can instantly add drama to a simple outfit, not in an over-the-top, sci-fi kind of way, but in a charmingly cool, insouciant manner. Melania Trump also made headlines last year for all the right reasons when she chose to welcome the French President and his wife Brigitte Macron to the White House wearing a black Givenchy cape. Melania has made some silly sartorial choices since she’s been in Washington (those shoes, that jacket…), but if you don’t want to be upstaged by the First Lady of the world’s first fashion capital, an elegant and graceful cape by a powerhouse Parisian brand is a smart choice.
Perhaps this endorsement by the duchesses, in particular, will kickstart a trend that, really, couldn’t be more suited to the keep calm and cosy up mood of January and February, when all we want is to feel cocooned and cushioned while looking understatedly chic. The fluid, often oversized silhouette of a cape is also ideal for the post-partying weeks of early 2019, when most of us are feeling heavier than a January rain cloud and the only thing we want fitted is our footwear.
At NYFW this week, Marc Jacobs brought the cape back to the forefront of our minds, with a myriad of ideas on the subject, from heritage checks to animal print and an exquisite navy wool option with oversized lapels. Catwalk fashion is always persuasive, but not necessarily practical. Many women won’t invest in a cape because they believe they’re all form and no function. But although crossbody bags will cause you any number of awkward moments, and rucksacks are out of the question when wearing a cape, a short-handled tote will do the job nicely.
Marc Jacobs AW19
Marc Jacobs AW19
Marc Jacobs AW19
But a cape is not a wholly utilitarian item either. Women wear them because they look daring but feel sheltering. They protect us while projecting confidence. As Irish activist and fashion icon Sinéad Burke said, “How do you ensure that you don’t become apathetic with nerves? You wear a cape.”