20th Century, Textiles & Costume

Elise’s gift: the mannish cape

Last week, out of Elise’s gifts, I showed you an exceedingly quirky and romantic and feminine leaf-green velvet evening wrap  – a perfect illustration of the mid-late 1930s Medieval Revival.  This week I’m sticking with velvet evening wraps, but going to the other extreme, to illustrate another fashion trend of the late 1930s – the masculine look for women.  Thus an almost severe and mannish evening cape:

The cape

You’ve already had a sneak-peek at this rather masculine monochrome evening cape: I wore it to the premier of  Porcelaintoy’s Monsters.

Me in the cape at the launch

I’m afraid the cape hasn’t photographed very well – the contrast of the black velvet and the white satin lining was just too tricky to balance.  I’ll try my best to tell you about it in great detail to fill in the gaps.

Quilted white satin lining, black velvet outer

Like most of the textiles Elise gave me, this cape dates from the late 1930s, as shown by the materials used and the broad shoulders.

Classic late 1930s broad shoulders

The cape outer is black velvet – almost certainly rayon.  It’s fully lined in quilted rayon sateen.

The quilted lining

The lining swings loose from the velvet outer at the hem, allowing the inside construction to be inspected.  The quilted is backed in some soft of fill – definitely synthetic, but I’m not sure what it is.  The fill is foxing badly with age.

The foxed and stained quilt backing

While the lining is relatively cheap, and the outer velvet is probably rayon, a bit of luxury has been added in the cloaks hood with a silk satin lining.

The lux silk satin hood lining

It makes sense that valuable fabric would be used where it makes the most effect: the hood lining is always visible, whether it is hanging down the back, or pulled up, with the silk framing the face.

The hood hanging down the back of the jacket, with glimpses of the silk lining

For all its severity and masculinity, this cape does have one distinct similarity to the leaf-green jacket: the shoulders are gathered in exactly the same way.  The extra stitching controls the fullness, and padding and structure underneath the gathers create the fashionable broad-shouldered effect.

Gathered and controlled cape fullness

The only other decorative detail in the construction of the cape is the double-buttons that fasten the front of the cloak, a feature common to male evening cloaks of the early 20th century.

The double buttons and loops on the front of the cloak

The cape is a commercial garment, as shown by the label in the neck, which still has the original owner’s initials pencilled on it!  The label could be the garment maker, or the department store that sold the garment.

The label. MBH? MRH?

Despite its age, and unlike most of the other garments, the cape is still quite robust and eminently wearable.  I’m not sure if it will get many more outings – I do want to keep it in perfect condition.  I did feel quite fabulous and glamourous in it!  I hope MBH, whoever she was, felt the same when she wore it.

Wearing the jacket


  1. Sharon P says

    Sakowitz (is) was a department store in Houston so I imagine the label is from the store it was purchased from. What a great find! 😀

  2. Stella says

    I like this one. The lines are clean, and the design’s simplicity is very effective. I’m getting quite interested in this shoulder gathering method.

  3. Lucy says

    It’s a very nice cape, especially the button closure!
    The first thing I thought, though, when I saw the label was ‘Mitch’. I don’t know if that’s my eyes deceiving me, or that that might be the name that’s written there. Would be interesting to know who owned it so long ago.

    • Isn’t it lovely? The name is definitely not Mitch. If you click through to the larger image, you can clearly see it is three letters separated by ‘.’

  4. This garment I like; it’s beautiful, and it would suit my style. It suits you very well too! Wear it in good health.

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