Capes: They’re not just for superheroes. And they never were, thank you very much. Throughout the history of film, capes have been giving high drama to every genre, from historical epics to horror films to character-based dramas to high-fashion romps to, yes, the superhero movie. They’re dramatic, impractical (yes, Edna Mode, “no capes!,” we know), and too, too damn cool. The cinematic capes of 2018 were no exception. Join me, please, as we traipse together down this cape-lined road of fashion-fueled Extra-ness.
A Wrinkle in Time
By this point in the year, a lot of people have forgotten about Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. It came out in March, which feels like five years ago when you consider how long 2018 has seemed. The movie wasn’t critically beloved and didn’t make a ton of money. But the costumes, my friends. The costumes. Paco Delgado worked several capes into Mrs. Which, Whatsit and Who’s wardrobes, but my particular favorite is the number seen on Mindy Kaling’s Mrs. Who, above. As explained by Delgado, the cape is made of (fake) feathers, which gives it a homey, patchwork look that provides great visual contrast when set against its structured silhouette. Also, a patchwork-esque quilt is fitting for someone whose dialogue is cobbled together entirely from quotes. Is that reading too much into it? I don’t care! It’s a feather cape!
Dolph Lundgren’s never stopped working since his ‘80s/‘90s heyday –Sharknado 5: Global Warming, anyone? – but in 2018 he made his return to multiplexes with the one-two punch of Creed II and Aquaman. In one of those films, he rides a seahorse into battle and wears an iridescent cape. Spoiler: It ain’t in Creed II. Costume designer Kym Barrett (the Matrix trilogy) took full advantage of Aquaman’s underwater setting to make capes that billow dramatically behind their wearers at the least provocation.
King Nereus’ (Lundgren) cape, in particular, has a hem shaped in such a way as to resemble a fish’s tail. And that bright, green and gold color combo, echoing some of the ocean’s more flashy denizens? Pure Lisa-Frank-on-crack perfection. Dolph Lundgren is great, and capes are great, and seahorses are great. Add those three things together, and you have a near-perfect encapsulation of Aquaman’s “too much is never enough” ethos.
With Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler oversaw a melding of traditional African styles with the technological advancements achieved by the nation of Wakanda. What does that mean in terms of capes? It means cape shields, worn by W’kabi’s Border Tribe, that can emit a forcefield enabling their wearers to form a shield wall. Who said capes are never practical? (Shut up, Edna Mode.)
“It’s a Galadriel cape that I made a couple months ago for LordCon. Figured I would wear it again. Not too much overlap on the guest list.” And with those words from Blockers’ Angelica (Ramona Young), a new cape crush was born. Angelica’s cape is possessed of a handmade flair that marks its wearer as pure Theater Kid. The cape makes Angelica’s character. Without it, she would just be some girl that sexually questioning Sam (Gideon Adlon) is into. But pop a pink velvet cape on those shoulders, and Angelica suddenly becomes an avatar for free self-expression, the sort of person a closeted, self-doubting teenage girl would naturally admire for her willingness to be herself, and damn the haters. (It takes bravery to dress outside the box in high school. Trust me.)
Bohemian Rhapsody might have gotten a lot wrong – in its demonization of its subject’s sexuality, in basic historical facts – but there’s one thing it got right, and that is that Freddie Mercury could wear the hell out of a cape. He wears one in the film (arguably two, the second being a re-creation of this pleated white look, which is really more of a poncho), slinking down the stairs of his swanky new pad in cape and crown like the king (er, Queen?) he knows he is. (It is the point of view of Bohemian Rhapsody that this party is overly decadent or dangerous or some other BS, to which I say what is the point of being a rockstar in the ‘70s if you can’t wear a cape wherever you want without being judged by it?) For this cape, Bohemian Rhapsody costume designer Julian Day recreated the red-velvet-and-ermine cape that became one of Mercury’s iconic looks.
Crazy Rich Asians
One of the most intricate capes of the year barely got any screentime. Under the guidance of costume designer Mary E. Vogt, Crazy Rich Asians was packed wall-to-wall with couture, including the cape-backed burgundy dress worn by Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) when she first meets her son’s fish-out-of-water girlfriend. That cape, elegant as it is, pales in the drama stakes compared to the canary yellow cape dress worn by Princess Intan (Kris Aquino), the aloof wedding guest whom Rachel (Constance Wu) impresses with her knowledge of economics. If you don’t remember the cape, it’s because you barely see it, but behind-the-scenes shots show an intricate lace confection designed by Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco. In keeping with Crazy Rich Asians’ intention to showcase different facets of Asian culture, Cinco was inspired by callado, a type of embroidery with a long history among Filipino artisans.
Whereas Angelica’s cape in Blockers symbolizes her freedom, Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) cape in The Favourite symbolizes the exact opposite. As seen above, the thing is massive, weighing down her already gout-ridden body and at times seeming to pin her to the floor. The thing’s a bloody monster, a burden that swallows her up – much like being queen, something she was never intended for and that poisons her relationships with her dueling lovers (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), who constantly attempt to manipulate her for the sake of their own power. (Ann Foster wrote a funny, fascinating essay on the convoluted path Anne took to the throne.) The cape – stuffy, heavy, oversized – stands, paradoxically, both for Anne’s power as the Queen of England and her lack of power to just go off and hang out with her rabbits. It’s particularly fitting that The Favourite’s poster has Emma Stone literally sitting on the cape, expressing a simultaneous desire for control over and contempt of its wearer.
Capes are serious business.
If Beale Street Could Talk
The costume design of If Beale Street Could Talk, unlike many of the other movies on this list, is rooted in everyday, contemporary (in this case, Harlem in the 1970s) apparel. It’s not a period drama like The Favourite, a superhero extravaganza like Aquaman, or a “fashion” film like Ocean’s 8 or Crazy Rich Asians, in which characters swan around in designer clothing too expensive and fancy for the vast majority of us poor moviegoers to ever wear. The cape worn by Tish (KiKi Layne) throughout Beale Street is a knit, butter yellow affair that says much about her character and the mood that director Barry Jenkins is attempting to convey. It’s not a particularly fancy or dramatic cape, but Tish isn’t a particularly fancy or a dramatic person. She wears the cape during scenes that establish her romance with Fonny (Stephan James) before everything goes to hell. These scenes are filled with light and hope and sweetness, echoed in Tish’s chosen bit of outerwear. The cape is characterized as “pure” by costume designer Caroline Eselin. “It’s an innocence and optimism and purity in the most beautiful way. He’s going to protect her, and that [cape] lends itself to being protecting in a way. It’s a feminine, soft piece.”
Mindy Kaling was one lucky son of a gun this year, because she had major roles in two movies and she wore capes in both of them. Oh, the dream! Kaling’s Amita wore a gold sequined number to infiltrate the Met Gala in Ocean’s Eight, while Sandra Bullock’s heist expert Debbie Ocean was outfitted in a partially sheer black number with golden spangles. But Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger stood out – literally – in a bright pink dress/cape combo with beaded embroidery along the shoulders. The color gives it a very traditionally feminine, Barbie Girl kind of vibe, which reenforces what audiences know of Daphne’s character up to that point. The sleek silhouette of the cape, in hearkening back to Hollywood stars like Liz Taylor, also presents its wearer as the sort of archetype we’re familiar with – it cloaks her, literally, in a certain kind of personality. As those who have seen the movie know, looks can be deceiving.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Capes may be more commonly associated with superheroes, vampires, and costume dramas, but as far as many a sci-fi fan is concerned there’s only one Lord of the Capes, and his name is Lando Calrissian. In the years since the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Lando’s capes – the blue-and-gold number he was introduced in, and the more lackluster beige cape from Jedi – became inextricably linked with his character. So of course, when it was time to show young Lando (Donald Glover) in Solo: A Star Wars Story, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman went all out, creating thirty-five capes for the legendary cape enthusiast. In determining Lando’s best cape, I think it’s best to defer to Glover himself, who was partial to the light, crisp, white cape Lando pairs with a brightly colored shirt and a red ascot near the end of the film. It’s by far the most casual of Lando’s capes, which keeps with Dillon and Crossman’s stated intention of lightening up Solo’s color palette as the film progresses.
A shout-out to our honorary mentions: Julie Walter’s “Super-Trouper” credits cape in Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again, Emily Blunt’s cape coats in Mary Poppins Returns, and an assortment of capes – especially this one, which looks like it comes with a built-in basket in case Queen Elizabeth’s wig falls off? – in Mary Queen of Scots.