One of the trickiest items to learn to wear properly is a cloak. It seems so simple, and one might think that it would go with everything, but there are certain types of clothing and certain occasions where cloaks are more appropriate than others. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion, but it is shared in part or in whole by many others who have been dressing in this fashion for a long time.
Generally speaking, cloaks look best with 'Antiquity', or period type clothing. If worn for ornamental purposes, they should never be worn with jeans and a t-shirt. They should absolutely not be worn with sneakers or tennis shoes. Doing this tends to give one an air of 'fan geek' or 'I'm trying to be a super hero'. Never wear a cheap plastic or polyester 'Halloween vampire' cloak as a garment. They look tacky, save up and get a good one, if you can't afford a good one do without until you can or make your own. One option is to get less expensive cotton fabric that can look great, and will certainly look better than the alternative and make one, (I have easy instructions here). My first cloak was made of black crepe-back satin with a black cotton-sheeting lining and served me well for years till I replaced it and gave it to a friend. It cost me about $20 to make because everything was on sale. I got many compliments on it, not to mention friends begging me to make them one.
Cloaks can look very elegant with Victorian or Medieval styled clothing. The lines of this style compliment the long graceful lines of a well made cloak. When deciding whether a cloak compliments or competes with an outfit, look at the styling of your garments.
Personally, I don't care for long cloaks with short skirts, but if the cloak is being worn for warmth rather than style, that changes the dynamic completely. Cloaks being worn for warmth, and being taken off immediately once inside can be worn with a wider variety of clothing. This is because the cloak isn't actually part of the outfit. While having a wrap that goes with what you are wearing is a definite bonus, sometimes weather dictates a preemption of style as can oversized sleeves on a pirate shirt or dress.
One good example of this is a Mistress going to a winter fetish ball. If it is particularly cold out, that lovely long PVC trench may not be warm enough or it may be raining, and it would be a shame to mar the shine with water spots. A cloak is the perfect solution, rather than wrinkling the sleeves in another coat throw on a cloak. Besides if there is no coat check it's a wonderful way to encumber a submissive for the night.
As much fun as it may be to swirl around on the dance floor in a circle cloak, be mindful of others and only dance with your flowing wrap when you have plenty of room to show off, (that also goes for other accessories like wings which can get real obnoxious real fast). You'll also want to take care when going downstairs, it's easy to step on a long trailing cape which could cause a painful spill for both you and anyone behind you.
Choosing the right cloak is also important. This is not an item you want to skimp on. Get, or make one, that will last you a lifetime. Personally I have several; one is for winter and is made of several panels of velvet and lined with suede cloth, another is a short cape made of black crinkly fabric that is velvet on one side and sparkly red on the other, another is made of black Jacquard. I have others that I use as loaners at conventions and when going to Ren Faires with friends, but those are my personal favorites. You probably won't be able to get one for every occasion right off, I made mine over a period of years, so you need to figure out where you will wear it most.
If you primarily want it to keep the nasty bright thing at bay when going to Ren Faire then you will want something to go with your garb (I wear my Jacquard cloak with a half-finished leather patchwork cloak over the shoulders when I wear my leather fighter type clothes). Choose a light weight fabric if your events are in the summer, or if you live in warmer climes. If you want warmth, go for velvet or wool and be wary of Satin linings, as they chill easily (I chose suede cloth, but cotton is good too). If the velvet cloak is simply for looks, satin can be beautiful but there are other options which can be stunning like lace. Buy something that will go with as much of your appropriate clothing as possible, neutral colours like black, grey and white are always good. Get something of good quality too, and remember that you usually get what you pay for.
If you are making one on your own, be patient and save up for the best fabric you can afford. Cloaks are really easy to make, and well worth the time it takes to do one right. If you have to do it on the cheap, you can get good quality lower priced fabric, shop around.
Copyright © Antimony&Lace/Victoria Gwaed/Carmen M. G. Christgau 1998-2007