Sebastian Law first encountered the opera cape in 2012—and upon first glance, the fashion editor knew the piece was exactly what his wardrobe was missing. “I was out with a friend who comes from a fancy family,” he tells Town & Country. “That night, he wore a passed-down black opera cloak and I looked at it and said ‘I’ve got to borrow this for fashion week.'”
For one day during that fashion week, Law decided to give the opera cape a go. The garment, complete with two metal lion heads fastened by a chain, cascaded down to his ankles (he stands at 6 foot 1) and completely covered his slim black trousers, Chelsea boots, and thick cashmere roll-neck sweater.
“That day was particularly windy, so the cape billowed rather dramatically,” he says. “But it did a number of things to me that day. Loads of people commented on it, it kept the rain off of me, and it got me into the Alexander McQueen show.” The cape even saved him from people noticing a wardrobe malfunction that occurred later that day. “My trousers split and the cape covered it right up.”
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Just over ten years after Law’s bold decision, the cape, seemingly once forgotten, is making its way back into vogue–especially for men. In the Autumn 2023 women’s shows, renditions of the cape were seen on several presentations: The Row, Loro Piana, and Balmain to name a few. In women’s fashion, it is more common that the garment goes through a pendulum swing in popularity.
For men, however, capes are usually far rarer. That is, until now. During the official Autumn 2023 men’s season that took place in January, Officine Générale , Fendi, and, Saint Laurent presented an arsenal of elegant capes in their collection. A few other brands, such as Sacai and Bode, even created a sort of illusion of the cape by draping expansive scarves around the models’ necks to mimic the garment’s silhouette. Just recently, contemporary brand Nanushka presented a series of men’s capes alongside their women’s collection during Paris Fashion Week. This resurgence of the cape, and its modern takes, result in a trend that teeters between modesty, glamour, and high drama.
“Capes dial into a rich aesthetic and the trending obsession for things that are unusual and synonymous with an elite style,” says Law.
The opera cape was a hallmark of fashion in the 19th century. “During that time, men’s capes were still in the atmosphere for popular wear. Wearing one wouldn’t be considered theatrical or costume-y like it would be today. It was just another option,” Sean Crowley, owner of Crowley Vintage NYC tells T&C. Crowley specializes in vintage clothing reminiscent of old Ralph Lauren ads and his pieces tug at the hearts of those who have nostalgia for a time when wearing a tie was the norm. “Aside from the practical aspect of being able to sling a cape on over a tuxedo, it was also just a style thing.”
In the early 1900s, the cape style underwent a series of transformations. For women, the changes were dramatic: In the ’20s, they were shaped like cocoons and worn with evening looks, an ideal topper for fuller dresses. By the ’30s, a hybrid between cape and coat was forged, and by the ’50s, fashion designers rid the piece of its utilitarian roots by shortening the length to the chest in some instances. The w0men’s cape’s popularity descended after the ’70s, but would be reintroduced to high fashion runways in 2014 when Christopher Bailey presented a monogrammed check blanket-style poncho.
But, for men, the cape had a stark fall out and was primarily used by military officers throughout Europe and United States. Still, men’s capes or cape-adjacent garments are associated with royalty, best exemplified by King Charles’s choice to don full regalia attire (which includes a red satin cloak) at the Order of the Bath service at Westminster Abbey in 2022.
But now, it seems that the men’s capes are ready for their resurgence. Aside from recent fashion seasons presenting both men’s and women’s capes, the daring outwear has been spotted on men even off of the runway. Actor Percy Hynes White donned one by Saint Laurent during the 2023 Golden Globes, and Crowley sold one of his “best” capes to 22-year-old menswear fashion influencer, Wisdom Kaye who boasts 2.3 million followers on Instagram and 9.3 million followers on Tik-Tok. “I think what we are seeing on the runway is reflective of the overall increase in experimentation in men’s formal wear,” Crowley says. “Men in particular are embracing a level of excess and fun in their dressing. Before men wore suits every day and now it’s not required. Dressing up is a choice, and when someone makes that choice, they are presumably excited about it. The cape fits right in there.”
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