Forget news about ghost illusions to hide objects and episodes of Star Trek; the ultimately cloaking device is none other than...a genuine fabric cloak. As it happens, I have a velvet cloak purchased from Siren, a goth store once located in downtown Toronto, but now expired. Unfortunately, it's generally too warm to wear it here in LA. And my metaphorical skin wasn't so thick the last time I wore it on the Santa Monica 3rd street promenade one cool(ish) October evening about 10 years ago. October! Believe me when I tell you: you haven't lived until you've been called Dracula by a homeless man. Ahem.
In any case, cloaks are the kind of practical garments that, in my opinion, should make a comeback because they also come with style, drama...I believe the best word is "panache." Until such a time as fashion culture gets bored with reviving the 70s and 80s and decides to take a look to such noteworthy garments as cloaks, there's artisenal cloak-makers CustomCloaks.com to fill in the gap. Scott Rogers kindly took the time to answer a few questions...
Let's start with a bit of historical context. At what point in time did cloaks cease to be a staple in people's wardrobes? Do you see a chance of a mainstream revival, or will cloaks remain a niche garment for the foreseeable future?
Cloaks and Capes have been around for ages. They are long, loose outer garments designed to protect wearers from the elements. These garments fasten at the neck with one or more hook and eye type clasp (or pin), and is made from large amounts of fabric so they can be draped over various layers of clothing and close fully in front. The only difference between our Cloaks and Capes is that a Cloak has a hood, and a Cape has a collar instead. The garment is made so that one can be quickly covered when needed from any type of environment. Since cloaks provides maximum protection, many cultures include them in their history.
They are not used as much today because we have better learned to control our environments, however still very popular in certain parts of the US and the world. They are still worn on a daily bases in parts of New England and the South as well as throughout Europe. Movies have played a part in their recent revival in the US. Movies for example like Sleepy Hollow, and Harry Potter, have reminded us of the function and grace they have always played in our societies.
Cloaks and Capes do play a major role in Ren Faires, Reenactments, and SCA events. However, there are many other unrecognized uses for Cloaks and Capes today. For example we get many requests from physically challenged individuals, and older members of our society. Todays zippers and snaps on coats and jackets can be a problem. The use and ease of a clasp cannot be understated. We also receive many requests for wedding cloaks which can provide a more affordable alternative than a traditional wedding gown. (see our wedding cloaks and capes) In addition, cloaks are often worn by various members of the clergy for many different occasions from weddings to handfastings. Of course, cloaks are fun to wear too for role playing games, holiday celebrations, and simply a joy to wear in general.
I started making Cloaks and Capes because I found that most cloaks on the market were simply cheap halloween costumes, made for very very petite individuals or were not made in the USA and were extremely expensive. I started making a few for myself (many trials and errors) then started expanding with different fabrics and trying different patterns at other peoples requests. I finally decided to create a place for my hobby of making quality Cloaks and Capes made to last, that would be available to fit anyone.
What are your favorite stories about customers who had you make their dream cloaks?
Not only do we LOVE making our Cloaks, we also get great JOY in helping people find the perfect cloak for themselves, even if it's not from us. This is why we encourage communication prior to ordering. Personally, I love making wedding cloaks. I feel very honored to be a part of someones' special day. It's also been extremely wonderful creating cloaks for wheelchair bound and/or physically challenged individuals who cannot easily manage todays' outerwear.
How are the cloaks made, and how are you able to offer so many options (materials, clasps, etc.)?
Many cloak and cape patterns are out of print and/or are simply not compatible with today's fabrics. Cloaks are made with large amounts of fabrics which need to be compatible in weight and care. This is why we will not work with costume fabrics (like acetate) and are very careful mixing outer fabric with inner linings. Our cloaks are made to last a lifetime, not just one or two wears like most "costume" cloaks on the market. We choose to make real cloaks for real life wear. Same with our choices of clasps. We found that using button or tie closures use more wear and tear on these types of garments.
Where do you hope to take CustomCloaks.com over the next few years?
Fabrics come and go with the seasons and new fabrics are always being created every year. Its always fun to learn about new fabrics and try them out as a cloak or cape. It's been a joy of mine for many years and always will be. "Dream Cloaks" can be fun indeed, but they do need to be realistic to sew and create. When thinking about your dream cloak remember to take into consideration, fabric bias, weights, and cleaning and care instructions!
Finally, what cloaks do you yourself wear, and how/where do you like to wear them?
I have different cloaks for different seasons. For example, in the winter I wear the "Dicken's Cape" which I made from black wool, and opted for a blue cotton lining so I could wear it with jeans or dressy attire if desired. (see our Dicken's Cape) In the warmer months I wear a reversible broadcloth cape. Holidays I opt for a Panne Velvet Cloak. I wear them either mid-calf or ankle length depending on the season.
Many thanks to Scott for the interview and for providing the images for this post. For more cloaks and capes, visit CustomCloaks.com.