When Donald and Melania Trump hosted a dinner for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Winfield House in London last week, the First Lady stepped out in a striking Givenchy gown.
The dress in question was already a strong choice — scarlet red and worth 5,610 pounds (Dh26,232) — but it was its super-womanly caped silhouette that made for the ultimate power move: silencing her critics more effectively than any other look during last week’s State Visit.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in her first outing since giving birth to Archie, joined her husband Prince Harry at the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on June 8, in a custom Givenchy navy blue cocktail dress, which included a cape worn over a wool crepe dress — also in navy with white sleeves.
Melania and Meghan aren’t the first to embrace the cape dress, a fashion hybrid in which a train-like panel falls from the shoulders of a gown, skimming over the arms without covering them entirely. It was Tom Ford who first introduced the idea to the A-list, when he dressed Gwyneth Paltrow in a sleek white version with an asymmetrical neckline for the 2012 Oscars.
It wasn’t until this year that the cape dress really gathered steam, though, appearing on countless red carpets, courtesy of Elle Fanning at the Cannes Film Festival, Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the Baftas, Priyanka Chopra at the Met Gala and the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge at royal engagements over the last few months.
Glenn Close earned her place on the best-dressed lists at this year’s Oscars in a gold sequin-covered caped gown by Carolina Herrera, as did Melissa McCarthy in monochrome Brandon Maxwell, while Amal Clooney wore a Grecian-style vintage Jean-Louis Scherrer incarnation for a Buckingham Palace reception in March. It’s easy to see why the look has become so popular: a cape dress is an effective way to make a fashion statement without showing a lot of skin.
Thanks to its dominance on the red carpet, the look has swiftly filtered through to the shop floor, making it one of the most accessible — and practical — trends of the moment, and a potential solution to many summer party dressing dilemmas. When attached to a dress, a cape won’t slide off your shoulders, it covers the tricky upper arm area and it’s not age or size exclusive. If you’re not brave enough to try something full length, why not start off with a flattering capelet-dress instead?
A cape could not only make the wearer look more powerful, but feel it, too, says psychologist Professor Carolyn Mair, author of The Psychology of Fashion. “Historically, capes have been worn by those in professions that demand courage and altruism such as the military and nursing and, more recently, by superheroes,” she says. “Because of these connotations, when we see someone wearing a cape, we might associate them with power and courage, too.”
It could explain why the cape dress has become such a hit with women like Waller-Bridge and Clooney — women who want the world to know that they have style, but who are also at the top of their game in their respective fields.
Whether this was Melania Trump’s or Meghan’s intention is anyone’s guess, but that Givenchy gown gave them the last word in power-dressing for now. — With staff inputs