Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Teacup in a Storm: Opera Capes.

Penned upon the 5th of April, 2007

Teacup in a Storm logo!

Dear Sir,
I am curious about the etiquette related to the wearing of opera capes. I am also wondering whether or not colored opera capes are appropriate for semi-formal occasions. Additionally, I would appreciate if you could recommend a good store that sells opera capes.

-Allen Goebl

Dear Allen,
As you know, ‘etiquette’ comes from the Greek etikitos, meaning, behaviour that won’t get your Auntie Ettie’s kit in a toss. If you’re no longer on speaking terms with your Auntie Ettie, you can act however you like and call it à rebours. The truth is, though, that the etiquette regarding opera capes is fairly simple: you wear it to the opera, then leave it in the cloakroom (so that you don’t trip over it when shuffling out sideways to get a choc-ice between arias.) The aesthetics of opera capes (or coats, or cloaks – anything long, voluminous and operatic) are a different matter, though, and rather more fun.

Evening formal functions are one of the few occasions one can wear a coat cut to the waist and not look like a disgraced colonel or a portly petit-bourgeois (I am a portly petit-bourgeois, but it doesn’t do to advertise the fact.) White tie and tails provides a rare unity of tone, form and dynamism which functions as an alchemical potion of grace for anyone who dons it. It does lack a certain something, however when one is not twirling one’s partner, but rather being jostled on the tramcar on the way home. In the rain. It’s when striding the boulevards that an opera cape, like a cane or a jaunty schnauzer, comes into play.

The second-most-important function of the opera cape is to protect you from the wind and cold. For this reason, it should be made of a good stout wool, perhaps lined with a faux fur (or real fur, if you stumble across a mink which perished in the frost, though if it couldn’t keep itself warm it might not be able to help you – and sometimes, I admit, real fur is not only pardonable but preferable.) The most important function of the opera cape is to swoop, to swish, to flow, to manifest the exquisite replenishing eternity of curved lines. If lined in fur, the collar should cuddle your head like an enormous adorable teddybear. Otherwise, you can experiment with collars high, or pointy, or soft like a Dutch painting. Don’t neglect the construction of the shoulders, though, or you’ll look like a handkerchief. You want to make the public stare!

Tasteful colours are appropriate for any occasion, but I shouldn’t recommend an opera cape with semi-formal wear, for the simple reason that you can wear a coat instead: either a long dinner jacket or smoking jacket, or one of regular length and a smart overcoat. I’m afraid I can’t recommend any particular commercial outlet, barring Circa Vintage if you’re in Melbourne, or eBay if you have patience and a keen eye. To get opera wear just the way you like it, it might pay to go to a tailor or dressmaker! It’s always the most fun to wear something of your own design, constructed to fit you exactly.

Good luck, Allen!
-Sir Frederick

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Commentary upon “Teacup in a Storm: Opera Capes.”

  1. Meaghan was heard to remark,

    Upon the 14th of April, 2007 at 4:30 pm,

    I should think that one of the additional benefits of a volumous opera cape is to prevent ruffians from relieving one of one’s watch whilst one waits to gain entry to Covent Gardens.

    Also, what are you views on the tiered great coat? Is it permissable to wear one for nighttime excursions, such as to Vauxhall during the Little Season, or is a great coat for travel and nocturnal amateur sleuthing adventures only?


  2. Sir Frederick Chook was heard to remark,

    Upon the 14th of April, 2007 at 4:43 pm,

    One does have to mind that urchins don’t find their way within it and use you as an inexpensive cab service to the other side of town, though, particularly when it hails.

    A great-coat tells the world “I embrace impromptu practicality above luxury, or at least hand-in-hand with luxury.” It is thus ideal for formal occasions if one is a Montmartre painter with odd shoes, or perhaps a young Slavic nihilist.


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