Much like the Spencer and the Pelisse, individuality of design amongst reproductions of the cloak (and all its variants) is often entirely overlooked. Simple and practical to wear, it is often seen reproduced in its plainest, most practical form as an accompaniment to many a re-enactors’ wardrobe.
This is perhaps unsurprising, as the cloak is often viewed as a poor relation to other, more complex garments. The simplicity of its design also means that it is a very easy garment to make, with little or no need for fitting.
However, there are more complex and unusual examples available to provide inspiration to more experienced seamstresses to create elaborate 'high fashion' cloaks. Little research appears to have been undertaken into these more unusual cloaks, capes, mantles and wraps, and they can certainly provide a more challenging and exciting project than it would initially appear.
The Practical Cloak
The image below (Plate 1) demonstrates how effortless, and yet striking, the addition of even a simple cloak can be to an outfit. The bright red wool cloaks seen here are typical of the period, and would have been an obligatory item. The easy extra warmth they provide, especially in the country, was invaluable.
They could have been worn over a Spencer or Pelisse as well as the dress itself. This also helped to protect any fancier clothing being worn underneath, as the thick sturdy wool of the cloak could easily have been brushed off when dry.
These cloaks often had hoods, and were generally lined. The hoods were cut large enough so that they would fit over the bonnet, which provides the additional convenience of protecting delicate straw or silk bonnets from the elements. The red colour seen in the Sperling watercolour was particularly stylish and fashionable, and certainly makes the cloak stand out, even though it is frequently seen amongst reproductions.
However, cloaks were also seen in many other colours, with references to blue and brown cloaks being the most frequent. They were also directly translated into a more fashionable garment simply by using lightweight silk or velvet. These often followed exactly the same lines as more practical woolen cloaks, but the expensive fabrics and trimmings transformed the garment into more of a fashion statement.
Unfortunately, very few extant examples exist, as such a practical garment was often patched, remade and recycled. Indeed, many a cloak of the Regency period likely had a former life as an earlier, and larger, Georgian cloak. This means that much of what we can learn about their construction is speculation, informed by references in letters and wills. The style and construction techniques, however, changed very little between periods for this simplest style of cloak.
The simple cloak can easily be adapted into something a little more unusual, but still equally authentic. The image left (Plate 2) shows a short, blue velvet cape lined with white fur.
This very luxurious garment is remarkably simple in design, and yet creates a dramatic addition to the outfit when paired with the white gown. In this image, it appears to be used almost as a wrap, with much the same purpose as a Spencer in that it acts like a modern cardigan would. This sort of garment would also be suitable for evening wear, unlike the Pelisse it is pictured with.
Following the Fashion: Cloaks and Mantles in Fashion Plates
Fashion Plates, such as those depicted here (Plates 2 to 8), are one of the most effective ways of researching varying styles in cloaks, due to the relative rarity of extant examples.
An Extant Light Blue Silk and Embroidered Muslin Mantle
Pictured here (Plate 9) is an extant example of a mantle from the Regency period. It belongs to the Fashion Museum in Bath, and is made of pale blue, lightweight silk, overlaid with white worked muslin with a lace trim. This immensely elegant and rich looking garment is an excellent example of what can be achieved even with so simple a garment as a cloak.
The mantle consists of three main parts. The main cloak body is ankle length and piped around the hem. It is gathered onto a yoke, which is hidden under the shoulder cape. It also has small arm slits, indicated by small lace edged flaps, enabling greater flexibility of movement. It is these arm slits which classify it as a mantle. Over the main cloak is a short shoulder length cape, as seen in the fashion plate depicting a red mantle with a short cape (Plate 7). This feature is also seen on Pelisses and Redingotes of the period. There is also a short collar, again lace edged. This collar follows the lines of the shoulder cape, accentuating its shape.
In the image above (Plate 10), we can see that the garment ties with blue silk ribbons at the neck, much as the open Pelisses did in the first part of this series.We can also see the lightly gathered lace edging in more detail. The cape and collar are also piped around the edge, as can be seen here. The flap over the arm slit is also piped and lace edged, as well as having a bow in the same blue ribbon as the tie.
The image left (Plate 11) depicts the piping at the hem of the cloak.
It also shows the two contrasting fabrics used in this garment: the whiteworked muslin and the pale blue silk.
The muslin has a cutwork flower pattern worked over it at regular intervals. This allows the shimmer of the blue silk to sparkle through in the candlelight. A very similar effect was achieved on the yellow silk and muslin pelisse detailed in the first part of this series.
Reproducing Cloaks, Capes, Mantles and Wraps
As stated previously, cloaks are possibly one of the easiest garments to reproduce, due to the lack of fitting involved and the simplicity of each piece of the pattern. There is a vast range of commercial patterns available, but it is also a very easy pattern to draft yourself. Adding collars and shoulder capes, like those on the extant mantle here, instantly give some structural interest.
When making a mantle, make sure there is lots of room in the body of the garment. This can be achieved by gathering the fabric onto a yoke which is hidden under a shoulder cape, a construction technique seen on some extant examples including the Fashion Museum's mantle.
All these examples prove that there is far more to a cloak than a practical wool garment to keep out the chill. It can be a fashion statement, just like any other garment, and add an instant splash of glamour and style to a simple Regency gown.
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