Soooo, a few day ago I came across a question that I had never before considered. Did 16th century men wear their short capes draped over one shoulder and tied under the opposite arm like Gilderoy Lockhart and everyone in the movie Shakespeare In Love? Now the photo catalogue in my brain starts turning and I can’t seem to come up with a proper answer. I spend the next two days trying to find one example of this fashion in historical art, and the closest I came was a museum display (which did show a lovely extant garment, but was not proof of how it was styled). No Dice.
What I learned from this rabbit hole of research is that, short capes were super common among all classes, and there are a whole lot of really beautiful extant examples. In paintings they are almost always worn over both shoulders, unless you are Sir Walter Raleigh, or a handful of other rakish gentlemen. They seem to usually be closed at the neck with a clasp or buttons and only very rarely with cord. Of the extant pieces I saw three with cords, but I saw none in the art. In the works of art that show men with their cape draped over one shoulder, it sometimes appeared to be defying gravity, which leads me to believe they may have been pinned in place. It’s like being Sherlock Holmes, but only if Sherlock Holmes was really interested in 16th c fashion that he will never wear himself.
Now all of this brings us to the fact that Movies are full of lies. I can say that these capes existed, and sometimes were worn over one shoulder, and that they sometimes closed with a tie. I can’t say that they were never tied across the chest, but I have found no evidence of this style in period. I think, it just wasn’t done.
Update: The painting below comes from the article, Make It Work: Street Style for the Sensitive German Man, By Hunter Oatman-Stanford. It clearly shows a man wearing his cloak in a similar style to Guilderoy Lockhart above, so maybe they did do it sometimes.
I highly suggest reading the article that goes with the picture, it is interesting.