10 Best Ponchos From FW21 Runways

If you buy only one thing for FW2021, make it a cape or a poncho. Comfy, cocooning and uncomplicated, they’re the wearable hug we all need right now.

10 Best Ponchos From FW21 Runways
Sculptural green felt sleeves, colourful graphic swirls in grey, red and blue, comfy quilting and an irregular hemline — thanks to three pointy handkerchief hems — make for an unforgettably chic statement coverup.
Image: Loewe

I don’t know about you, but the ongoing pandemic has screwed up my social life AND my fashion sense.

I’ve practically become a hermit — attending two social engagements per week is about all I can handle, compared to pre-Covid times when one or two a day felt totally normal. 

After having gotten so used to oh-so-comfy lockdown clothes — mainly tank tops and shorts for staying home, walks, cycling and errands; polos and skorts for golf; yoga apparel for, well, yoga; and billowy midi- or maxi-dresses for dinner parties — the idea of wearing something too tight, structured or considered just seems rather horrifying.

Louis Vuitton
The gentle curves of its rounded cocoon shape encase the wearer like a comforting bear hug, while its dusky pastel-blue and black colourblocking adds visual interest, while minimising the appearance of bulkiness.
Image: Louis Vuitton

OK, I’ll admit, I’ve also put on a few pounds.

So that means I’m not about to squeeze myself into a sheer, skintight bodysuit (a key FW2021 trend), or lug around even more excess baggage in the form of a shoulder-busting maxi handbag (yet another key FW2021 trend).

It seems that the easiest and most forgiving trend to embrace this season might be a cape or a poncho, which appeared in many fashion collections this season — think Christian Dior, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Chloé, Missoni, JW Anderson and more.

But first, some background.

JW Anderson
This oversized number, which trails along the ground, may be one to stay indoors with. Sky-blue and mustard-yellow motifs on a forest-green background, trimmed with a white border, give it an ethnic feel.
Image: JW Anderson

A Short History Of Capes

The earliest recorded instance of a cape dates to a 1066 illustration of a soldier or shepherd with a cape draped across his shoulder, according to crfashionbook.com. 

Early capes were simply round pieces of fabric that  were attached to the collar. Over time, they evolved into more complex styles that demanded tailoring and intricate stitching. 

They could also be used to signify rank or occupation. For example, monks wore hooded, waist-length styles, whereas royalty favoured full-length double-stitched, fur-trimmed ones made from velvet, silk or satin.

With its reverse toile de jouy weave, abbreviated cut, fringing and hood, we love how this manages to be classic, modern and edgy all at once. Perfect for those who prefer clothing that doesn’t restrict their freedom of (arm) movement.
Image: Dior

Capes made from waterproof fabrics were also used by the military as rainwear in Europe up to and throughout the 1900s.

By the Victorian era, more women than men were wearing capes — scarlet ones, in particular, epitomised good breeding and a high standing in society. 

In the 1920s, they were shaped like cocoons, which made them eminently more suited than coats for wearing over full-skirted evening dresses. By the ’30s, cape/coat hybrids came about, offering a more tailored silhouette, a collar and buttons, with slits instead of sleeves for the arms.

In the 1950s, abbreviated chest-length capes, which were completely closed in the front, were worn over matching dresses. 

Capes then pretty much fell off the fashion radar for decades.

Alberta Ferretti
If you’re looking for something classic, timeless and understated, this calf-length black cape, which fastens at the chest with the help of two buckles, is a sure winner, which would go perfectly well with pantsuits, jeans and dresses.
Image: Alberta Ferretti

How Are Ponchos Different?

In comparison, the poncho is made of a square or rectangle of cloth, with a hole in the middle through which the wearer’s head protrudes. It’s worn either parallel (forming a rectangular silhouette) or diagonally (forming a diamond-shaped silhouette). Some come with hoods to ward off wind or rain, and may also feature tie-fasteners on the sides.

Born out of the necessity of keeping warm and protecting the body from harsh weather conditions, while still having the freedom of movement to continue working comfortably, ponchos have been used by the Native American peoples of the Andes and Patagonia since pre-Hispanic times, and are therefore considered typical South American garments.

Traditionally woven from vicuña hair, cotton, wool or silk, they usually incorporated stripes or other more complex patterns.

The delicious shade of chocolate brown is livened up by a chevron design in burnt orange and caramel — the deep V-neckline, chevron design and three-quarter length help create a longer, leaner silhouette as well.
Image: Chloé

The colours and designs of traditional ponchos did not merely serve an aesthetic purpose — they were a way to denote power and seniority among the indigenous South American Mapuche population, and were thus often only worn by older men, leaders and the heads of the paternal lineage in families. 

During the 1970s, the poncho became a must-have style item for American women during the hippie movement.

Then, like capes, ponchos largely disappeared from the fashion scene, even though utilitarian waterproof versions — usually in army green — were adopted by campers to use as makeshift tents, groundsheets and emergency raingear.

Gabriela Hearst
Soft, flowy and hitting right above the ankle, this pale beige full-length number is versatile enough to be worn over a turtleneck and trousers, or over an evening gown for formal occasions in cooler climes.
Image: Gabriela Hearst

But in 2004, they somehow came back in fashion.

According to an article in UK newspaper The Guardian that year, “somehow ponchos are proving so popular that they have become, undoubtedly, this autumn’s biggest trend. There are now so many ponchos around that a bird’s-eye view of your average High Street on a Saturday afternoon would look like a big patchwork blanket moving slowly through the metropolis.”

Likewise, a 2004 editorial on American website Slate.com, entitled “Is That A Real Poncho? The hideous new trend afflicting America”, asked: “Is there anything to like about the poncho? Apparently the look is ‘comfortable and comforting’. 

Salvatore Ferragamo
If Barbie ever needed a rain poncho, this waterproof number, which comes in the sweetest shade of bubblegum pink instead of the usual army green, would fit the bill perfectly.
Image: Salvatore Ferragamo

“Some writers have said that we’re in a post crop-top and low-rise jeans moment, in which women are demurely wrapping up rather than baring all. Happily, these fans claim, the poncho ‘covers all the right areas’, hiding the most worrisome midsection figure flaws. They also say that the sleeveless poncho is easy to whip on and off as the temperature demands… A recent article in the New York Times…sums up the garment’s appeal even among adult women, ‘[T]he poncho is popular simply because it’s so easy to wear. It goes with everything. One size fits all. It’s never too tight’.”

The article goes on to denigrate ponchos: “Mature, non-sweatpants-wearing adults can agree that security blankets are supposed to be ‘comforting’; clothes are not. Ponchos are not ‘comfortable’ either. Try carrying a purse while wearing one: hang the purse over the poncho, the ample underarm fabric bunches up; carry it beneath and it creates a tumorlike protrusion…It’s a simple rule of fashion that one-size-fits-all, like elastic waistbands or pantyhose with sandals, is never a good idea. Unless the fabric is exquisite or the wearer excessively thin, the poncho’s room-enough-for-two cut, rather than hiding figure flaws, makes most women look bulky and misshapen.”

And yet, every few years, designers champion the return of capes and ponchos.

Sometimes we prefer things short and sweet. This juxtaposition of oversized tartan check and mini proportions makes for a visually arresting coverup, and may be especially suitable for petite wearers who might otherwise “drown” in a bigger cape or poncho. Perfect for pairing with knee-length skirts or cropped trousers.
Image: Burberry

In 2014, at the end of the Burberry FW2014 runway show, all the models came out with their own personalised Burberry blanket poncho, resulting in a months-long waiting list and, eventually, a sold-out design. Not only did it spark the monogram movement; it also reignited an interest in capes.

Capes were all over FW2018 runways as well. And they’re having another moment right now.

Maybe it’s got to do with the growing gorpcore movement (the name refers to Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts aka trailmix), which prioritises utility and function above all else, and features outdoors-inspired clothing like campwear that’s not just for camping.

Or maybe, it’s because the very criticisms levelled against capes and ponchos in the past have now become plus points as we renegotiate our attitudes about fashion.

Coral, sky-blue and white stripes on a blush-pink background make for an eye-catching and feminine piece. Wear as a beach cover up on chillier evenings by the sea, or to liven up your basic autumn getup or turtleneck over trousers.
Image: Missoni

What’s wrong with choosing clothing that’s comforting and comfortable? Isn’t one-size-fits-all more sustainable when it comes to sharing clothes (and donating or reselling) when you tire of them? Who cares if people think you look bulky or misshapen, when it’s all about body positivity and fat acceptance, and not pandering to the male gaze, these days?

So, to circle back to the main point: if you buy just one thing this FW2021 season, make it a cape or a poncho. It’s an easy wardrobe update assuming you’re jetting off to some temperate clime as soon as travel restrictions lift. And just in case we end up not being able to travel overseas (because, you know, travel bubbles can and do burst), your new poncho or cape is not going to remain unworn and abandoned at the back of your wardrobe.

You could drape it over an armchair and admire it every day. Snuggle up in it while watching Netflix, should you be faced with another lockdown. Heck, you can even use it as a picnic blanket in case dining out at restaurants gets banned again. 

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