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1890s Golf Cape

I recently acquired an item from my most-wanted list – a mid 1890s golf cape. The golf cape is one of those garments that was very useful and popular for a short while, but then faded into obscurity.

Like so much of what I’ve learned about fashion history, I first heard of the golf cape at an exhibition. The fantastic collection of Shippensburg University had loaned it to the Museum of the DAR for an exhibition in 2013. From that time on I have kept my eyes open for such a cape.

In the 1890s golf was a very old sport that was new to the United States. In spite of the problems associated with golfing, mainly that a course had to be laid out and made, the sport caught on. By 1894 there were even several courses that were owned by, and primarily used by women.

The clothing worn by a woman for golf was quite simple. She needed a shirtwaist, or blouse, a skirt shortened to a few inches above the ground, a jaunty cap, and a neat belt. In spring and fall a knit vest would complete the ensemble. But what about playing on chilly days?

The answer was the golf cape, which started showing up in US women’s magazines around 1893. Because golf originated in Scotland, golf capes were made from woolen plaids. Many of them had leather straps on the interior of the cape to allow it to be thrown back over the shoulders when needed.

But why did capes become popular for golf and other sports? The answer can be found in the fashion of the times. The 1890s were the era of the gigantic sleeve.

This cartoon from the March 28, 1896 issue of Harper’s Bazar shows the difficulty of wearing a jacket over these huge sleeves. In the 1890s, capes weren’t just popular for sports. They were worn for all occasions, including evening. In 1894 the Madison Daily Herald reported, “Capes will be worn again and must be continued in vogue while large sleeves are used.”

The reporter was correct. When sleeves began to deflate, the golf cape lost favor, though there are mentions of it in the press even after the turn of the twentieth century. Sweaters were just more practical once they became easy to put on over the shirtwaist.

My cape is made from a heavy double-sided wool plaid, which is blue on one side and red on the other. Is such a fantastic textile even made today?

There are no leather straps, as this cape closes with two buttoned tabs, very similar to those found on nursing capes. In fact, take off the hood, make it a solid navy wool, and this would be a nursing cape.

And now to assemble the rest of the ensemble. That should keep me busy for a while.

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