Since marrying Prince Harry, Meghan Markle stepped out wearing an array of cape dresses. Express.co.uk spoke exclusively to SJ Adams, a multi-award-winning designer, brand owner, celebrity stylist and personal style coach from West Yorkshire about the design of these dresses and how a cape can elevate an outfit.
SJ explained what a cape was and the many forms they can be designed in: “Capes (or ‘cloaks’ as they were more historically referred to) have been around for centuries and have evolved over the years from being a garment worn by the rich and powerful in society as protection for the garments underneath to a fashion item worn as a substitute to a coat or jacket.
“There are many different types of capes which range in the fabrics used and the length worn.
“Traditionally capes are long in length and range from hips to ankles. Capelets are a shorter version which covers the shoulders right down to the elbow. Both fasten around the neck area and be hooded – this style is often associated with the character Little Red Riding hood.
“In addition, you can find capes that are shawl-like in nature and wrap as opposed to fasten around the neck and Ponchos which are historically a South American variation that slips over the head also sit within the cape family.”
In terms of the impact a cape has on an outfit, SJ said: “A cape in essence is an outer garment that is used to create an additional layer to clothing.
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“For those who enjoy a more relaxed and comfortable fit, capes are the perfect alternative to wearing a conventional coat or tailored jacket as they have a looser fit and don’t have sleeves so feel less restrictive. This means that they work especially well with fitted/ tailored dresses such as shift or sheath as they open at the front to reveal the long clean lines of the dress underneath.
“Due to the looser fit of a cape, fuller-shaped dresses such as A-lines and empire shapes would give a bulky appearance to the body.
“From a practical point of view, many women are uncomfortable with showing the tops of their arms that are often left exposed when wearing many types of dresses – capes are a stylish answer to this as a sleeveless dress can be worn underneath which is then concealed by the cape which flatteringly caps the tops of the arms.
“A cape works well with tailored skirts and fitted trousers too as it creates a leaner more flattering silhouette from the waist downward. For example, a cape and trousers or skirt in the same colour with a fitted blouse underneath will create an interesting and flattering outer column of colour which will give the appearance of someone looking slimmer and taller.”
Some of Meghan’s most iconic looks have involved capes; from her black Stella McCartney dress for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral to the bright green Emilia Wickstead ruched cape dress for her last official engagement as a senior working royal, back in March 2020 for the Commonwealth Day Service.
They were also her go-to choice for official engagements when she was pregnant, or touring overseas.
Style guru, SJ took a look at Meghan’s choice of cape dresses and gave her expertise.
SJ said: “Wearing a cape undoubtedly elevates an outfit. They tick many boxes – they are sleek, look chic and elegant but are also functional and fashionable. Perfect fitting for Meghan, a cape can add a regal level of drama to an outfit and interest to a simple block colour silhouette and offers a different and more interesting way to wear a modest high neckline.
“As a style coach, I often explain to my clients that the clothes we wear can be used to give off strong messages to those around us.
“Capes are essentially a type of cloak which historically has powerful, regal connotations and are associated with superheroes and royalty so subliminally give off an elevated high-end status. This may well have been the perception Meghan wanted to elicit as a new member of the Royal Family.”
Most of Meghan’s cape dresses were for official engagements, and SJ added: “Meghan would have most likely worked closely with a stylist or style coach such as myself on defining her personal style and to come up with her own unique signature style.
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“For someone who is comfortable with being the focus of attention, capes are a statement piece – perfect for an evening event especially one that is high-end as they are eye-catching yet conservative, chic and quintessentially regal in nature.
“Sometimes just wearing a dress can leave a person feeling exposed and bare, so from a practical point of view wearing a cape dress is a comfortable, less restrictive and more stylish alternative to wearing a jacket but as the event progresses and becomes more relaxed it gives the option of being taken off later to reveal the dress underneath.”
SJ also discussed why Meghan might’ve chosen cape dresses during her pregnancy: “Staying comfortable is the main priority during pregnancy and this can be a challenge especially whilst still trying to look your best.
“Cape dresses are a great all round piece during pregnancy. By incorporating cape dresses into her maternity wardrobe Meghan was still able to maintain and not compromise her pre-pregnancy style.
“The looseness of the fit of the cape means that Meghan was able to effortlessly negotiate the stages and changes in her body well whilst still looking her best in a way that perhaps wearing a fitted jacket wouldn’t allow.
“Layering is a great way to regulate fluctuating body temperature during pregnancy so wearing a cape dress meant that Meghan was still able to embrace her own unique chic personal style whilst being able to easily remove a layer of clothing without compromising the overall look of an outfit.”
The majority of Meghan’s cape dresses were also midi or maxi in length and SJ revealed why: “Wearing a cape is all about creating the most flattering silhouettes and wearing midi and maxi length capes are what would work best for Meghan’s body shape and teamed with a longer fitted dress would still allow her to modestly show off her curves in line with royal protocol.
“With her body shape, Meghan would also be able to successfully wear a long cape. A good tip for wearing a long cape is to try adding a belt which will help to add a focal point, shape and definition to the waist area.
“It is more the shape of the dress worn underneath a cape than the length that matters – the key to wearing a dress underneath a cape successfully is to keep it fitted and within the same colour palette as this will create a flattering long lean silhouette.”
Alongside a similar length, all of Meghan’s cape dresses were in one bold colour of fabric, rather than a pattern or print.
SJ said: “Capes are a large garment which is why wearing a cape dress in a block colour may be preferred as it will offer more outfit options.
“Wearing block colour seems to be the preferred option for royals as it is perceived to be formal and sophisticated. The other advantage is that it also has a slimming effect as wearing columns of colour creates a vertical line of interest and therefore elongates the appearance of the body.
“Could a patterned cape above a plain dress work? If done correctly, yes absolutely but this would have to be done using a bold eye-catching print which would undoubtedly go against the traditions of the royal dress code.
“A cape in a bold print would also have to be carefully balanced off with neutral basics and accessories.”
About SJ Adams
SJ is the founder of Urbanized Neckwear – an artisan handcrafted accessory brand that sells architectural scarf-like structures from fabric that drapes and fasten around the wearer’s neck using zips and fasteners to make them look quirky and interesting.
In 2020 SJ’s hard work and achievements led her to be voted as the Windrush Female Entrepreneur of the Year winner for both Huddersfield and the west Yorkshire region.
More recently, she was nominated and won the Simply Ladies Award for ‘Fashion Designer of the Year’.