A cape is any sleeveless outer garment, such as a poncho, but usually it is a long garment that covers only the back half of the wearer, fastening around the neck.
Capes were common in medieval Europe, especially when combined with a hood in the chaperon, and have had periodic returns to fashion, for example, in nineteenth century Europe. Roman Catholic clergy wear a type of cape known as a ferraiolo, which is worn for formal events outside of a liturgical context. The cope is a liturgical vestment in the form of a cape. Capes are often highly decorated with elaborate embroidery. Capes remain in regular use as rain wear in various military units and police forces, for example in France. A gas cape was a voluminous military garment designed to give rain protection to someone wearing the bulky gas masks used in twentieth century wars.
In fashion, the word cape usually refers to a shorter garment and cloak to a full-length version of the different types of garment, though the two terms are sometimes used synonymously for full-length coverings. The fashion cape does not cover the front to any appreciable degree. In raingear, a cape is usually a long and roomy protective garment worn to keep one dry in the rain.
In full evening dress, ladies frequently use the cape as a fashion statement, or to protect the wearer or the fine fabrics of their evening-wear from the elements, especially where a coat would crush—or hide—the garment. These capes may be short (over the shoulders or to the waist) or a full-length cloak. Short capes were usually made of, or trimmed in, fur; however, because fur is less accepted as a fashion accessory in modern times, other expensive materials are substituted for it, with an opulent lining and trim. Typical fabrics used are velvet, silk and satin. Capes are still authorized as an alternative to the more utilitarian trench coat for U.S. Army officers in mess dress, formal evening uniform.
Caped overcoats were popular for men during the Victorian era, with some caped Ulsters featuring multiple layered capes, and the Inverness coat (both formal evening and working day variants) had a cape. The Inverness coat is no longer commonly worn, and the Ulster lost its cape in the 1920s.
In modern times, comic book superheroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Thor are often described as wearing "capes" or "opera capes", although most of these are long enough to count as opera cloaks.
Soul singer James Brown was known to wear capes and prominently used it during concerts when he feigned exhaustion.
It is also infamously known as a typical garment in the stereotypical caricature of a pimp.
Famous quotes containing the word cape:
“The Great South Beach of Long Island,... though wild and desolate, as it wants the bold bank,... possesses but half the grandeur of Cape Cod in my eyes, nor is the imagination contented with its southern aspect.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“A solitary traveler whom we saw perambulating in the distance loomed like a giant. He appeared to walk slouchingly, as if held up from above by straps under his shoulders, as much as supported by the plain below. Men and boys would have appeared alike at a little distance, there being no object by which to measure them. Indeed, to an inlander, the Cape landscape is a constant mirage.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“The allurement that women hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence enormously fascinating. To the average man, doomed to some banal drudgery all his life long, they offer the only grand hazard that he ever encounters. Take them away, and his existence would be as flat and secure as that of a moo-cow.”
—H.L. (Henry Lewis)