Now & Then: The Capes and Gowns in Fashion


When Gwyneth Paltrow stepped onto the red carpet at the Oscars in February 2012 wearing a minimalist white column gown by Tom Ford, one particular detail of her ensemble took some critics’ breath away – the cape. A cape! Gowns with capes, at the time, seemed old-fashioned, even anachronistic, but Gwyneth pulled it off with aplomb.

According to InStyle, Tom Ford, the designer of Paltrow’s gown, said, “I have to say that was my favorite fashion moment. I loved the simplicity of it and I loved it for that moment in time. I love that Gwyneth was brave enough to [wear a cape].” When Paltrow herself was asked about the cape, she said, “I tried on one dress. That was the dress, and I thought, ‘it’s a little different but it’s sort of a throwback. I saw a pic of Jackie O in a white dress with a cape and it’s been a while since anyone’s worn a cape, frankly, except for Superman.”

Click here to see our curated gallery of gowns with capes.

Karolina Kurkova, Katy Perry, and Jennifer Lopez and others

Gwyneth’s look ushered in a new era of gowns with capes on the red carpet. In September 2012, just a few months after Gwyneth’s Oscar moment, Karolina Kurkova wore a bright-red Valentino gown with matching cape to the New York City Ballet Fall Gala, and two months later Katy Perry wore a blue caped Naeem Khan gown to the UNICEF Snowflake Ball.

In the past few years, dramatic chiffon confections with matching capes have been worn by the likes of Jennifer Lopez (in a dramatic periwinkle blue Valentino gown with cascading cape to the Met Gala in 2017), Kate Hudson (a black caped Dior at the 2017 SAG Awards), Brie Larson (a pink Monique Lhuillier to The Glass Castle premiere in 2017), Andra Day (in vintage peach Christian Dior to the 2017 Grammys), Sara Sampaio (in J. Mendel at the 2017 CFDAs) and Mandy Moore (in black Naeem Khan at the 2017 Golden Globes).


Fast-forward to the 2018 Golden Globes, when Diane Kruger chose a stunning black halter gown by Prada with a matching jewel-trimmed cape that seemed to float behind her. Kruger’s gown, like Lopez’s and Paltrow’s before her, brought to mind glamorous gowns of past decades. While Paltrow’s and Lopez’s gowns seemed made for the 1960s, Kruger’s gown captured a 1930s glamour – delicate, embellished, and probably too fragile to be enjoyed for very long in the real world.

Click here to see our curated gallery of gowns with capes.


In the 1930s, while the Great Depression ravaged the American economy, movies – and the costumes within those movies – provided a welcome distraction from audiences’ sometimes hard-scrabble day-to-day lives. The film costumes of such stars as Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Dolores Del Rio, Dorothy Lamour and Kay Francis showcased an extreme level of glamour. The lives these women were depicted as having could have been afforded to very few.

Without television as competition, film was the visual mode of escapism and storytelling of the time, and the studios went to extremes to clothe their stars. Capes were often a part of the stunning ensembles stitched up for their stable of female stars – either as part of their onscreen wardrobe, or for a promotional photo set that would be released to the press. Silk gowns with matching capes; chiffon negligees with cape-like sleeves, satin gowns with attached fur-trimmed capelets – these billowing extra pieces of fabric added another element of luxury and mystique to these boldfaced names.

Some of our favorite cape moments caught on film include Joan Crawford’s pleated cape in No More Ladies (1935), Ginger Rogers’ satin cape in Swing Time (1936), and the sheer, fur-trimmed cape Travis Banton designed for Marlene Dietrich in Desire (1936).


Some memorable red-carpet cape moments—apart from Gwyneth’s Tom Ford cape moment, of course!—include Marilyn Monroe, who wore a form-fitting metallic gown with matching cape to the London premiere of The Battle of the River Plate in 1956, and Lupita Nyong’o, who wore a minimalistic Ralph Lauren off-the-shoulder column gown with attached cape to the 2014 Golden Globes. Jennifer Lopez has also worn a few memorable caped looks, in addition to the frothy Valentino gown she wore to the Met Gala in 2017.

Lopez wore a metallic Zuhair Murad Couture creation with cape to the 2015 Golden Globe Awards, and the cape’s trailing effect made for some fierce poses on the red carpet. We also loved Emily Blunt’s beautiful, embroidered Prada cape and gown, which she wore to the Met Gala in 2015. Blunt’s gown, like Diane Kruger’s, would have looked right at home in a 1930s romantic drama.

Click here to see our curated gallery of capes and gowns in fashion.