Capes & Capelets In The 1890s

During the 1890s, the cape evolved from a traditional article of outerwear into a major fashion item in its own right, transcending the purely practical and evolving into a fashion work of art. Moreover, because of the loose sizing and easy construction, capes especially lent themselves to mass production and retailers offered them in a variety of styles as can be seen from this 1895 French advertisement:

Or this 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog:

And of course, nothing would be complete without some extant examples starting with this relatively functional but highly decorated cape with Medici collar:

Cape c. 1890s; Thierry de Maigret auction website.

The body appears to have been made from a finer wool, probably a worsted or perhaps a cashmere but it’s hard to tell without a closer examination. But what really makes what would otherwise be an ordinary cape stand out is the extensive soutache pattern running across the length of the cloak and collar. Here’s a couple more examples in the same vein:

Cape, c. 1890s; Kerry Taylor Auction Website

Besides wool, velvet/velvet plush was another favorite base fabric:

And cape designs could be very elaborate:

Evening Cape, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1976.318.16)

The piecing of the fabric pieces at the back is simply amazing and the design effect is incredible. Here’s a side profile that shows the collar to good effect:

Here’s a close-up of the collar:

Finally, we have this example that incorporates extensive lace and beading over silk velvet:

A. Walles, Capelet, c. 1895; Auction Website

And here’s a close-up  of the lace and beading:

Below are some unique views of a cape that are usually omitted. It’s interesting to see how it’s all laid out:


Here’s a view of the collar, laid out flat:

And the whole cape laid out flat:

We hope you have enjoyed this short excursion into the world of 1890s capes. In future posts, we’ll be posting more about this fascinating garment.

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