CAPE-able Women

By Zachary Rousseas

The week’s object is a beautiful cape dating to the later 19th century. The cape is green velvet around the collar, shoulders, and down the center. Throughout the cape there is very elaborate beadwork and embroidery on the front and back sides. It is a mixture of hand and machine stitched. There is a hook and eye closures in the front of the cape and the pocket on the side. Elaborate capes such as this were considered both stylish and controversial.

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Capes and cloaks were a fashion staple throughout the western world for centuries. During the time of the Civil War, it became trendier for cloaks and capes to be a shorter length and to be adorned with tassels, beads, and braids. This cape is telling of its time because of its frivolous style.

This piece is important because it came from a time of contention around women’s clothing. Women’s advocacy in the 19th century was based around a multitude of issues, from temperance, equitable pay, suffrage, and even dress reform. Many women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, argued that much of the clothing that was socially normal to wear for women limited their movement, and needed to be replaced. Eventually women abandoned this issue in pursuit of other advocacy, such as suffrage. Women still hoped that with the growth in equal education during this time, they would abandon frivolous fashion in pursuit of more honorable interests.

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