An Ode to Capes

November 23, 20178 min read

At the ripe age of 5, I went to the cinema for the first time. What did you see? I hear you ask. The Incredibles. Apparently, I shrieked with glee most of the way through it, laughed at all the right parts and oohed and ahhed when appropriate. I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is the short, bespectacled, ebony haired Edna Mode shrieking “NO CAPES!” at the top of her voice. “Do you remember Thunderhead?” she asks, “Tall? Storm powers? Nice man, good with kids. Nov. 15 of ’58! All was well, another day saved, when… his cape snagged on a missile fin. Stratogale! April 23, ’57. Cape caught in a jet turbine! Metaman: express elevator. Dynaguy: snagged on takeoff. Splashdown: sucked into a vortex. No capes!”

To this day I can hear her piercing motto in that half-German, half-Japanese accent ring in my ears upon the sight of a cape. Yet, alas, despite Edna Mode’s strident declamation, I turn weak at the knees at the sight of a really good cape. My eyes glint like a Magpie’s upon the sight of a shining silver penny. I just love a quality cape.

Capes rarely have pockets, they don’t have sleeves and if you’re a superhero, you run the risk of having it get caught in a jet turbine. Capes are pretty much useless. Unless you want to make a damn good entrance — and really, who doesn’t? — a cape is dramatic. It says, “listen up 5s, a 10 is here!” It says, “I’m a grown ass bitch with a lot to say!” It says, most of all, “I’m magnificent, and I know it.” For some reason, the cape hasn’t been a popular accessory for quite a while (I blame Edna Mode). But the campness and wonder of a fucking good cape is spellbinding and frankly, a trend that I think should make a little resurgence.

Because capes are my favorite gratuitous accessory, I’ve compiled a list of all my favorite ones. So, here are The Best capes on and off the cinematic screen (in no particular order):

Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992. Source: tumblr

1. Lucy Westenra, searching the maze, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992

This scene in particular that features the cape is vastly important to the narrative of the Dracula tale; it’s where we see innocence become fully corrupted. It’s tense, it’s disturbing, it’s as dramatic as a gothic tale can get and this is only amplified by the addition of Lucy Westenra’s billowing scarlet cape. Eiko Ishioka created extraordinary designs for this film, blending classic gothic tradition with pure creativity. There’s little to go on in the book with regards to the costumes — other than for Dracula himself — so the reader’s imagination does a lot of legwork, but we’re in Eiko Ishioka’s safe hands here in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation. (Interesting fact: Ishioka also designed the costumes for Grace Jones’s Hurricane tour.)

Judy Landon as Olga Mara in Singin’ in the Rain, 1952. Source: Pinterest

2. Next, it’s that exotic star, the Black Widow, Olga Mara!

This look is in the first five minutes of Singin’ in the Rain, and I was bitterly, bitterly disappointed that this look didn’t stay in the film for longer. The green on the inside, and the fur on the outside — spectacularly done. A round of applause. Plus, that sequined dress with the spider web across her bare chest and her hair tucked into a glossy hat with feathers protruding from the top? LET ME BREATHE! It’s rare that such incredible costumes are given to minor characters, especially when their screen time stands at under five minutes. So, three cheers for Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen for including this wondrous piece. Part of me hopes that this costume was designed before the film was fully written and that it was kept in just because of how great the cape is. One can only dream.

Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, 2001. Source: Pinterest

3. Galadriel in The Lord of The Rings saga

Cate Blanchett is ethereal in this dreamy number. Galadriel is the fountain of wisdom and compassion, and this floaty dress with matching diaphanous cape that sails behind her is the perfect accompaniment to her character. She embodies the celestial, the graceful and the sublime; what better accessory than a cape to visualize those qualities? A talented designer is needed when in control of such a costume production as Lord of the Rings, and Ngila Dickson created such a world of grace and class. Though the Lord of the Rings saga is known for being a trying watch, it set in stone the aesthetic blueprints for future fantasy film costumes — the capes contributing a huge part (in my opinion).

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, 1934. Source: Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

4. Claudette Colbert as the eponymous character in 1934’s Cleopatra

1934 saw Cleopatra stand as the second most popular movie at the U.S. box office.I’ve got a feeling this cape had something to do with it. The costumes in Cleopatra — specifically the ones she wears — are truly the elements that bring this black and white film to life. It’s so big and dramatic; seven people stand behind Cleopatra holding it up, displaying its full glory. Honestly, this cape truly speaks
for itself. Just look at it! Incroyable!

Rihanna at 2015 MET Gala. Source: Billboard

5. Rihanna at the 2015 MET Gala in Guo Pei

Of course, I have to mention Rihanna’s majestic show-stealing ensemble at the 2015 MET Gala, with the theme China: Through The Looking Glass. It’s not a cape you can twirl in, but no matter. This is the kind of cape that doesn’t even need its wearer to pirouette in to show it off; this cape does all the talking on its own. Though if you’re going to wear something as marvelous as this cape, you need to have an air of royalty about you. Which is why Rihanna is the perfect match. Rihanna looks like a queen no matter what she wears, but this regal fur-clad cape, adorned with intricate embroidery? Just name the date of her coronation, and I’ll book the day off, Navy flag waving.

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Rochelle Asquith

I like books and art with bad colour schemes.