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Why the Movies Are So Obsessed With Capes

Cinema is about a lot of things. It’s about exploring the human condition and making your audience feel empathy for people they’d otherwise never get to meet. Perhaps less noble — but no less important — it’s about entertainment. About wish fulfillment. About dreams. About drama. And for drama, honey, there’s nothing better than a cape.

The cape: an item of clothing that’s nearly devoid of practical purpose. Want to be warm? Wear a cardigan. Want to carry things? For god’s sake, a cape is not the way to go; they don’t mix well with purses. Capes are nothing more, nothing less than pure, unadulterated, floor-to-ceiling — or neck-to-shin, as the case may be — aesthetic. As such, their contributions to the history of film fashion have been boundless, from Batman to Dracula to high-fashion cinematic ladies like Edith Head and Joan Crawford.

Joan Crawford in The Women.
Photo: MGM

If you want to pinpoint one single moment that heralded a sea change in cinematic cape culture — a subject woefully understudied by fashion and costume design historians alike — try the November 5th, 2004, release of Pixar’s The Incredibles. In it, Edna Mode offers a blistering takedown of the superhero staple in what has to be one of the most famous — okay, maybe the only — cape-themed monologue in cinema history.

“No capes!,” she angrily exclaims. “Do you remember Thunderhead? Tall? Storm powers? Nice man, good with kids. November 15th of ’58! All was well, another day saved, when… his cape snagged on a missile fin. Stratogale! April 23rd, ’57. Cape caught

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