This Wow is a study in creamy contrast. Both are simple shapes, yet each makes its statements in completely different ways. The pelerine (please see discussion below) relies on a bold, softly pleated trim for its drama. The cape is a cascade of elegant lace with a soft green lining. Made approximately twelve years apart from each other, they convey different senses of what is elegant. Which do you prefer?
Pelerine, 1872, American, silk. Length at center back is 24 in. (61 cm). C.I.53.24_S2 (metmuseum.org)
Cape, ca. 1860, American or European. Fabric type not available, dimensions not available. (metmuseum.org)
And now for a point of discussion and a bit of sleuthing. The item the Met calls a pelerine is something I would have called a mantle. Which got me wondering – what’s the difference? I found the following information on thesewingacademy.org in answer to someone who asked this very question (I’ve put the take-home message in bold).
“Pelerines are often smaller–something that’s shaped around the shoulders, and waist-length–while mantles are a larger-scale accessory outerwear piece. But you’re right, the shapes can be quite similar. I would define a pelerine as an item to complete a dress, whereas a mantle is an outerwear item. As such the round and sometimes pointed short capes/capelets/large collars in either the dress fabric or white are pelerines.”
That is how I’ve understood the difference, even though I hadn’t been able to articulate it. I think the Met just might have it wrong, since the piece in question definitely looks like outerwear to me and too large to simply “complete” a dress. So it’s a mantle in my mind and shall stay that way…technically a mantelet (also “mantlet”) that is.
Having said that, one can see in the back view photo that it’s unlined. Certainly a mantelet would have been lined. Is that why the Met labeled it a pelerine – an absence of lining indicating it was only meant to complete a dress? But surely a pelerine would be lines as well, since it was probably as some point the inside would be seen. Yes? No? Maybe? As a stand-alone item, without the dress with which it was meant to be worn, if there was one, it’s hard to say.
For a detailed and complex history, please see the discussion on fashionera.com – Mantelet Fashion History, Part 1, for more possibilities of which was called what and when. She has mages of early Victorian mantelets here.
And then there is this interesting tidbit, from the Belle Assemblee, Volume 3, from January to June, 1826. Although written decades earlier, it appears to distinguish between mantels as outerwear and pelerines as part of the dress:
“Mantels continue the rage for out-door costume: those most in favour are of silk Scotch tartan, or velvet. On quitting the theatres, ladies generally envelope themselves in a mantle of cachemire, of a new-fashioned brown, named the Lord Byron, but differing little from chestnut-brown. Some cloth cloaks are of a dark green, or of very dark blue; and fur pelerines over high dresses of merino are very general at the different promenades. The new pelisses fasten down the side of the skirt, in an imperceptible and very ingenious manner, and appear more like round dresses than pelisses. They have generally three rows of flounces, and the bodies are laid in plaits. Many ladies who desire to appear singular, and find the comfortable warm pelerine of fur too common, wear their’s of black velvet, lined and wadded: these have two long ends which reach the knees, and the ends are confined under the sash.”
The same volume also describes the latest fashionable addition for dresses of merino: “…these comfortable winter dresses are made partially high, and are finished by a broad colerette-pelerine of fine lace, pointed at the edge in the Spanish style…”
And that’s all I know…for now, at least.