Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Big Cover-Up: Cloaking Devices (c) By Polly Guerin

When the weather turns chilly, it’s time to cloak yourself in the hottest stylish accessory, the fashionable cover-up. Whether it is a cloak, poncho, ruana, cape, capelet or shawl, these hot fashion items provide an extra layer of warmth that give any outfit a certain pizzazz that conveys a chic image. A wide range of fabrics dominate the cover-up style, from classic knits, to camel wool, tweeds, or paisley for day wear to elegant silks, lace and moiré for evening wear. They are trimmed with embroidery, braid, and ruffles and updated with a Burberry border or fur.
Most of our modern cover-up styles come right out of historical reference. Definitions as follows:
CLOAK, any loose fitting garment, with or without hood, fastened at the neck with strings or fastened to the hemline. A Puritan cover-up, it is a popular for rainwear today.
PONCHO, a blanket-like cloak with a hole in the center to admit the head, originated in Latin America. Pretty today with braid embroidery or fashioned in paisley fabric.
RUANA, a poncho-like outer garment of heavy wool. Today a Southwest-inspired, fringed ruana, toggle tied at the neck with Prairie embroidery looks great with rancher girl wear.
CAPE, a sleeveless garment of various lengths, fastened at the neck and falling loose from the shoulders is worn separately or attached to a coat. CAPLELET, a short cape usually covering just the shoulders. More fashion than function in this style, but charming as an evening accessory.
SHAWL, a square, triangular or oblong piece of wool or other material worn dashingly about the shoulders in place of a coat outdoors or protection against chill or dampness indoors. Coordinated in matching color with a sweater it perks up an outfit with fashion savvy.
Full length cloaks have been in fashion from early times and they all seem to start with a very loose garment that protected from the cold, rain and wind. The Romans, Scots and Brits used the cloak as a night blanket, as did the Arabs of the Middle East. Long cloaks were popular with both sexes through the 16th and 17th centuries but we mostly think of them as Victorian Opera Cloaks. In the 18th century a very popular cloak in Britain was the Cardinal, a three quarter cloak with a hood. Welsh women liked blue cloaks and the Irish wore black or gray. The term, “Mantle,” another name for a hooded shapeless cloak with arm slits was frequently used throughout the 19th century.
The cloak cover-up paved the way for the small cape that falls over the shoulders and reached the waist. Around the 1890s the multi-tiered shoulder cape with high collar became fashionable and would have been made of cashmere, alpaca, Melton wool or lace and silk fabrics for evening wear trimmed with fur, tassels, fancy braid or feathers and usually lined in silk or fur in winter. Etiquette books advised Victorian brides to include at least 2 or 3 evening wraps (capes) in their trousseau. However, the loose fullness of a cloak held on as a fashion accessory as it was highly suitable for wearing over the wide romantic crinoline skirts. Until 1900s full length cloaks and capes were still worn but after that time they seemingly lost their place in fashion importance and by WWI they were only seen on Red Cross Nurses and service women. Moving into fashion, a wide variety of stylish coats became de rigueur and the standard.
The hottest new way to stay warm has come full circle and the various cloaking devices have given way today to a wide variety of gorgeous shawl, poncho, ruana and cape styles. Worn separately in milder weather or tossed over a coat in winter these items have become ‘must have’ fashion accessories.

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