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.

1898 Opera Cape

A because we’ve been focusing on 1890s capes recently…here’s a picture from 1898:

Woman Wearing Opera Cape, 1898; Powerhouse Museum (P3576-22), Sydney, Australia.

This picture is interesting in that the woman is wearing what appears to be either a waist or a light bodice. Also, the skirt appears to be of a watered silk moire fabric. One advantage of the 1890s short capes was that they simply draped over the shoulders, thus no interference from the sleeve heads which could be quite large during the Mid-1890s.

A Cape From Maison Pingat

Capes were a major fashion during the 1890s and were made both for exclusive haute couture as well as the mass market. Below is one example of a cape made by Maison Pingat sometime circa 1891-1893:

Pingat, Cape, c. 1891-1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.60.6.8)

A look at the interior.

Side Profile

This case is constructed out of black silk velvet with fur trim and panels of silver metallic beading running along the collar, front, and back. In many respects, it’s reminiscent of decoration found on church vestments. The use of a wide strip of fur trim on the front is interesting in that it appears to be a fixed panel with two separate arm openings. We would have loved to be able to examine the construction more closely because it certainly seems to be a bit more sophisticated design than what one usually sees with capes.

Rear View

The Label.

Here’s a good look at the silk lining fabric.

Close-up of the bead embroidery.

It would appear that the beading panels were constructed separately and applied as applique panels. This design utilizes a dark black ground to show off the beading which takes center stage, drawing the eye towards the center and neckline. It’s definitely a major showpiece and bears further study. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at one of Pingat’s masterpieces.