Cape dresses = comfortable

What do you think of when you hear the term “cape dress”? Do you even know exactly what this is?

A cape dress is a hand made dress with a cover called a cape over the body. It can be attached or separate. They frequently have a zipper up the center of the back. They hang well below the knee. Sleeves are at least to the elbows and often 3/4 or full long sleeves. Necklines are high and can be with out without a collar.

Old fashioned, conservative, fuddy-duddy, repressed, legalistic are terms some use to describe both the dresses and women who wear them. I would doubt if anyone who said these has ever worn one. If they would, they may change their minds. I did. After wearing them, I prefer comfortable and modest to describe them. While the fit will vary between pattern, the cape dresses and other modest dresses I have are the most comfortable clothes I own. In fact, I just ordered 6 more.

Cape dresses are most often associated with the conservative Christian denominations of Mennonite and Amish. Other Anabaptist groups such as Old German Baptist wear cape dresses as well. There are several differences between them however. The Amish dresses tend to be of a solid neutral color. The cape and apron are separate and worn over the top of the regular dress. Mennonite cape dresses often have prints on the fabric. The cape is attached and sewn on at the shoulders and waist. They usually don’t have an apron. I was once told by a Mennonite woman that she could tell generally what church others attended by the dress she wore. Usually women tend to make dresses from similar patterns, print size and type of others in their church or district since they frequently get their fabric from the same stores.

At first glance, most cape dresses seem alike. However, after spending 2 weeks in a conservative Mennonite community last summer, I was impressed with the tremendous variety of dresses the ladies wore. They were all conservative, long, mostly cape dresses or prairie dresses (long, modest dress without a cape). However neck shape, collars, sleeves, buttons, and pleats made each lady’s dress different.

Wearing a cape dress isn’t limited to these denominations only though. Many women like me have discovered the cape dress to be a comfortable way to dress modestly. Some Christian women wear them to be set apart from the world. They make a distinct statement that as a Christian you aren’t following worldly fashion.

It takes a bit of self-confidence (or perhaps total lack of) to so drastically change your clothing style when starting to wear long, modest dresses. Perhaps wear one just once in awhile then see how you like it. They aren’t only for adults either. My daughter loves her longer dresses. I think you will agree that a good fitting, modest dress is very comfortable. They need not be expensive. You can often get them online for less than $20 or custom made for between $30-$50.

If you can sew, you can save even more money; the fabric and notions aren’t expensive. There’s a set of Home Ec units available from Christian Light Education about sewing a cape dress to help you get started if you’ve never sewed a dress before. They include everything but the actual pattern and fabric. There are many places that sell modest dress patterns and fabric which would work for this (I have links to a few on my Web Links page).

For those of you who don’t sew, you can buy cape dresses on E-Bay. I have bought several this way, just type “mennonite dress” into the search box. They don’t have S-M-L type sizing but instead are listed with bust and waist measurements. This actually gives a better fit than traditional sizing. There are other sites that sell them custom made.

UPDATE 9/12/09:

I recently switched churches to a more conservative church. The ladies there have been very complimentary of my dresses and encouraging me to sew my own. So this week, I bought the Ladies Simply Modest Dress pattern from Candle on the Hill. The #205 Contemporary Plain Dress from Friend’s Patterns is another good cape dress pattern.


22 Responses

  1. Maaaan, you know there is such thing in the web like search engine, if you don’t, go there to understand why this post is bullsh**

  2. Exactly what part of my post do you disagree with? I’d be happy to explain why I wrote it.

    As a conservative Christian woman, I believe “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;” -1st Timothy 2:9 (KJV) My way of fulfilling this is dressing plainly including the cape dress. I do wear other dresses and long skirts at times too.

    Yes. I do use Google quite a lot. There are also many on the web who do agree with my post. You can find both sides of any issue on the web with Google or any other search engine. I wonder how many of those people opposing dresses as Biblical are based upon stereotypical perceptions (some of which I mentioned) instead of personal experiences. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I like to wear cape dresses and find them comfortable.

    That’s fine if you disagree, but have you ever worn one or personally known someone who has? If not, then you’re basing your opinion on other’s ideas not your own. This post is based upon my own personal experiences, not those of others. Another reason why there may be more pages against cape dresses rather than in favor is because many women who wear them choose not to have internet or else it’s such a non-issue in their life that they don’t write about it.

  3. akhomeschoolfun, mymnimmocah’s post is spam. I think he wanted his first post to be approved so he can post spam links without moderation. He posted the same thing on my blog. Don’t take his comments personally.

  4. Bob,
    Yeah, I kinda figured that might have been the case the second time. I have moderation set on every comment so that tactic won’t work.

  5. I was just googling to find the CLE Light Units and came across your post. I live in Amish/Mennonite country and I have been “dresses only” for 7+ years. Last summer I purchased two cape dresses from a Mennonite yard sale. I was a little embarased to do it as an “English” person. I figured they might wonder what I wanted one for, but I thought I could at least wear them around the house. They were SO comfortable I was amazed! I don’t own any dress that’s nearly as comfortable, and I have a closet full. I am going to order the Light Units because I was to begin sewing my own nursing cape dresses. Dh is fine with the girls and I wearing dresses, but I know he’s a little weirded out with me wearing a cape dress, LOL! I’m going to try to make mine with a crop or vested nursing top and not a cape in the back (at least at first!). Thanks for your post. I just wanted to echo your experience that they are VERY comfortable!

  6. Oh, and I’ve even worn one of the dresses out in public, which around here is a little more awkward since I don’t put my hair up and cover my head. We’re obviously not Mennonite, but I can’t help wearing my cape dress! The other one’s a little bright for me so I save it for a work/camping dress.

  7. Nice post dear heart. I am attempting my first cape on a dress. Could not afford a pattern in my size so i am winging it. So far so good! LOL! I will change the way I did the neckline n ext I me I do it!

  8. Michelle,
    Thank you. Good luck with your dress. I haven’t had a chance to do any more sewing lately. I have a dress for my daughter about half finished. Necklines aren’t my specialty either. A trick I read about for making the cape without a pattern is to fold the bodice front and back each in half after you decide and mark where you want the edge of the cape to be. Then fold the edges back to where you marked to use as a pattern for making the cape. May God bless you in your efforts.

  9. Just want to say thank you! for all the great info found on your site, even helped me with my job recently 🙂 keep it up!

  10. Hi
    Very nice and intrestingss story.

  11. Jassi,
    Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  12. Hello,
    We are also not Mennonite, or Amish, but do lean heavily towards what the Anabaptist faith stands for, and we are considering converting. My daughter and I also use the cape dresses. We did get some strange looks at first, especially my daughter, the typical why do you dress that way, and of course I hear why don’t you just let her dress like everyone else? NOT A CHANCE!! LOL!!! She loves her cape dresses, they are wonderful, and comfortable ! Gehman’s Country Fabrics also sells them, and Katies Mercantile. There are two sellers on Ebay we buy from at super reasonable prices. You keep up your cape dresses, don’t let anyone sway you. It’s a beautiful thing to dress modestly. I wish I knew how to sew clothes, but reading a pattern is like hieroglyphics to me. I machine quilt, but clothes intimidate me lol! Just had to pop in and add my too late to be two cents! Sorry for the long post 🙂

    In Christ,
    Dianna in New Mexico

  13. Dianna,
    Thanks you so much for your encouragement. Yesterday I took my daughter shopping at a local thrift store. We had a hard time finding anything appropriate. The skirts that were the right waist size were mini-skirts (even for 6 year olds!). We did find a cute floral jumper though along with some long sleeve shirts she liked for winter.

  14. Hi,
    Katie’s mercantile makes cute jumpers, and modest skirts. You just tell her how long you want them, she’ll let you know what fabrics she has available. I know what you mean about the clothes at the stores, that’s exactly why I went searching online for a good source of modest dresses, etc. I was going to put some of my daughters jumpers up on ebay, I have a good sized stack, plus some skirts I had made up for her. If you’re interested let me know. Mostly florals, but there are some solids, and some denim. I got my daughter some skirts at the thrift store before I found Katies and Gehmans. It’s so hard to find anything that isn’t street walker chic. So sad, if little girls dress this way when they’re little, can you imagine how bad it will be when they’re grown up? It’s wonderful you’re keeping your little one modest too, mine is soon to be 9. They follow by example, if you dress modestly, it’s more likely she will follow and not have a problem with it. THe other positive is that our girls are homeschooled, and don’t have to deal with all the negative peer pressure. What a blessing it is that we have been given this opportunity to shepherd their little hearts in the way that they should go.

    In Christ,
    Dianna in New Mexico

  15. I loved your article! When I began selling modest cape dresses and little girls dresses on Ebay and on Etsy, I was SO BLESSED by women across the US that WANT to buy modest dresses! I have the wonderful opportunity to sell these dresses at some very good prices, my sellername is mennonitemom on both Ebay and Etsy. I try to keep the fees low for the best of all my sisters in the Lord! Blessings.

  16. Here is a link to my ebay store, I have many more dresses coming in September, when the gardening is done!

  17. There is a woman who always wears the same tattered stained Cape dress who appears alone, poor, and low functioning who occasionally rides the city bus. She appears to be hardly able to care for herself. At times I wonder if she was thrown out of some sort of community.
    I would like to make her another dress. I heard that there is a formula for making these dresses without buying a pattern. Have you heard of that formula? I am trying to get together a group of people (one with a machine, another with fabric) to do a good deed and help this poor woman. if you hear about how to do this, please contact me at

  18. BJ:
    You would still need a basic dress pattern. To add the cape, you fold the bodice from where it joins the shoulder to where it joins the waist so it is a little smaller. You would do the same to the back. However, there are a few companies that sell inexpensive cape dress patterns. If you aren’t familiar with sewing or making a cape dress, that would probably be better than trying to figure it out your first time, especially if it is for someone else or you don’t have a cape dress to compare it to. I bought my pattern from Candle on the Hill for $19 Friends Patterns also has a cape dress pattern. It is #205 Contemporary Plain Dress for $15 If you know her size, you can buy a cape dress from Gehman’s Country Fabrics for about $50 or Plainly Dressed for $60

  19. Hello,
    There is also a youtube tutorial for a cape dress, you might find it helpful. This lady says you can use a basic dress pattern and modify it from there. Also Rod and Staff has a sewing lesson that tells you how to do it, but it has to be purchased, it’s inexpensive though.

  20. I’m sorry, I didn’t give the link to the youtube cape dress tutorial, here it is, she explains everything really well.

  21. I didn’t know R&S had a cape dress tutorial. I know Christian Light Education does because I have them. They are part of their home economics course but can be bought separately. There are 2 workbooks which are $3 each. One is on preparing/altering the pattern and the other is about the actual sewing. You have to buy the pattern separately. See my previous comment for 2 places to buy them.

  22. Dianna,
    Thanks for the update with the link. Hopefully someone like BJ will find it useful.

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