Capes are an interesting piece of women's outerwear: you can dress them up or down, and if you don’t already have one in your wardrobe, you’ll find that adding one can really contribute some flair to a relaxed or simple look. On the same note, if you’re building an eye-catching outfit, a cape can be the stand-out piece—like frosting on a cake.
If you’re not sure how to wear a cape and you’ve wanted to add one to your wardrobe, we’ve got you covered. But first, let’s dive into what capes are, along with their interesting (and ancient) history.
The Dramatic History of the Cape
Most people associate capes with superheroes—but they’ve been a statement piece in fashion far longer than Henry Cavill’s Superman has been (beautifully) wearing one.
Some of the earliest records of capes are artifacts from the bronze age depicting riders on horseback with capes flowing in the wind.
Illustrations of men wearing capes in 1066 as protective pieces of outerwear have also been uncovered.
This piece of clothing wasn’t limited to just men: other depictions of women rocking capes date back to the 1300s.
Capes have also been a fashion favorite of military types and royalty throughout history.
The Coronation of Napoleon, painting by Jacques-Louis David. We see at least three capes making an appearance in the crowd.
Reimagining the cape as a fashion piece for the masses rather than simply a functional item came about during the Victorian era—especially for women. Capes took the Victorian world by storm: there were sheer capes for covering exposed shoulders, capes with high collars, and tiered, ruffled capes with multiple layers.
However, by the early 1900s, capes were beginning to fall out of favor as the newest fashion trend—the jacket—began rising in popularity. When World War II hit, the demand for capes stalled altogether: luxurious high street looks requiring yards of fabric were abandoned in favor of utilitarian pieces tailored for working in factories.
Capes wouldn’t reappear again until the 1950s and 60s, when former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy helped launch the look back into the spotlight.
Today, capes continue to make their mark on fashion with bold silhouettes on the runway. Fashion trends in the 2020s are heavily influenced by retro styling, and the cape is no different.
The Difference Between Cloaks and Capes
Capes have often been confused with cloaks. They’re both sleeveless garments with impeccable drape that creates a luxe and elegant look. However, cloaks and capes, while similar in some cases, have distinct differences.
The biggest difference between the two is the length. While capes tend to break around the torso, hips, or mid-thigh area, cloaks often reach the floor and cover the entire body.
The functionality tends to differ between the two as well, though this is less clear-cut. In general, cloaks are made for enduring cold weather—they tend to cover your entire body and are usually made from heavier materials, such as wool or dense velvet.
Cloaks can also be pulled tight with fabric across the front to keep in the warmth, and typically feature the addition of a hood to ward off rain and snow.
In contrast, capes are typically designed for appearance and ease of movement. They tend to be made with materials designed for flowing silhouette and style, such as silks, satins, or viscose.
However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule: you might see cloaks made from silk and capes made from wool.
Will Capes Keep You Warm?
For the most part, capes are fashion over function. Compared to a heavy velvet cloak, they feature lighter-weight materials that may not withstand harsh weather conditions deep into the winter months. This is why capes tend to trend for fall runway collections.
However, whether or not a cape will keep you warm comes down to the fabric of the cape, and any additional style accents like faux fur collars or trims. A heavyweight cape made from thick wool or a densely knitted sweater cape will definitely help you keep cozy while staying stylish.
Some cape styles are also designed to stand up better to colder temperatures. For example, Anne Klein’s chevron-styling petite cape combines the fashion of a cape with the function of a jacket—perfect for those cooler fall temperatures before a freeze sets in.
We also offer this beautiful chevron cape in standard cape sizing, too!
How to Wear a Cape
If you’re wondering how to style a cape and create fashionable outfits, good news: A cape is an incredibly versatile piece that you can use in a variety of looks.
You can never go wrong with your favorite pair of denim for a fantastic everyday look. Start with the Chevron Knit Cape Jacket and pair it with our Essential Skinny Jeans, a basic turtleneck, and our Square Crystal Accented Dial Watch for an elevated casual look that will turn heads.
If denim isn’t your thing, no problem. You can layer a cape on top of a fitted pair of trousers to match your pumpkin spice latte. Try our Petite Vertical Stripe Zip Front Cape—it has a statement-making pattern and a zip front that is cozy and stylish. Combine it with the Pull On Hollywood Slim Ankle Pant and our lion tote bag in saddle colorway, and you’ve got an outfit you’ll never want to take off.
Accessorizing with belts is also an excellent way to add shape to the silhouette if you don’t want the look to be quite so loose. This can be a great look for pear-shaped or hourglass bodies when you want to accentuate your waist and hips, but keep the dramatic look of a cape.
To maximize belts, we recommend sticking with cape lengths that extend past the waist to create definition. Cropped capes can be more challenging to pair with a belt and tend to work best as an accessory for dresses or coats.
Capes are also a fantastic way to break up monochrome looks that strictly rely on one shade, like all-black outfits or all-white outfits. They give a pop of character (and in some cases, color) that help the look stand out rather than blend in.