Caped Crusaders: Designers Bring Back a Staple of Heroes — and Villains
By Miles Socha on August 6, 2021
As superfluous as it might seem, the cape ranks as one of the more functional and versatile garments in men’s fashion history.
Military cloaks and capes worn by British and Russian soldiers in the 1920s and 1930s offered protection from foul weather, and also doubled as a groundsheet and makeshift tent, according to Andrew Groves, a professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster in London.
Lo and behold, capes made a surprising appearance on the spring 2022 runways of Celine and Saint Laurent, the fall 2021 couture collection of Giambattista Valli, and Kim Jones’ debut Fendi couture collection.
“The reappearance of cloaks on the runway is a reaction to the unprecedented global events of the last 18 months and a need to reconnect to simpler garments,” Groves mused in an interview. “In their focus on materiality, fabric and drape, cloaks act as a comfort blanket, a means of hiding away when we are feeling vulnerable in such uncertain times.”
On the flip side, highwaymen and robbers have also donned capes since forever, and so these garments also came to symbolize concealment and secrecy.
“The 17th-century highwayman was an obvious influence at Saint Laurent, while Giambattista Valli’s capes conjured up ideas of magicians when coupled with evening attire,” Groves commented. “Ultra-fine cloaks billowed ferociously in the air as FMX bikes raced skyward at Celine. It is incredible how such a seemingly simple garment can be reimagined in so many different ways.”
According to the professor, capes and cloaks appeal to men who embrace clothing “for its romantic possibilities” and as a way of expressing a sense of freedom.
“They transcend the whims of fashion and allow us to connect to more mystical, ancient times,” Groves said. “The cloaks on the runway at the recent men’s wear shows demonstrate the diversity of approaches and meaning this seemingly simple garment can bring.”