The Inverness cape is a form of weatherproof outercoat. It is notable for being sleeveless, the arms emerging from armholes beneath a cape.
It began as the Inverness coat, an outercoat with sleeves covered by a long cape, reaching the length of the sleeve.[note 1] By the 1870s, the cape split in two and a small cape on each side was sewn into the side seams, not taken across the back. In the 1880s the sleeves were removed entirely and the armholes cut away beneath the cape to form the Inverness cape.
The fronts of the coat may be finished in either of two styles: in one, the more formal, the topcoat is finished with short lapels and the capes are set back behind them. In another style, there are no lapels. A simple fall collar with a tall stand is used, the capes buttoning across. These were also favoured for less formal wear, particularly by coachmen and cab drivers, who needed free movement of their arms.
Even though a wide variety of coats, overcoats, and rain gear are worn with Highland dress to deal with inclement weather, the Inverness cape has come to be almost universally adopted for rainy weather by pipe bands the world over, and many other kilt wearers also find it to be the preferable garment for such conditions. Unlike most raincoats or other conventional overcoats, the Inverness cape has no sleeves. Instead, it has wide-cut armholes in the sides to accommodate the arms. This enables the wearer to access a sporran without unbuttoning and opening up the cape. The opening in the side is covered by a short cape, which can be buttoned up in the front.
In popular culture
Arguably the most famous example in fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Holmes is often associated with the Inverness cape. Holmes' distinctive look, usually complemented with a deerstalker cap and Calabash Pipe, is originally credited to illustrator Sidney Paget, adapted to the stage by the actor-playwright William Gillette, and later made famous by Basil Rathbone's portrayals on-screen.[note 2] The Inverness cape is a water-repellent garment. The commonly held image of the cape as worn by Holmes is one made of tweed, but more modest capes, made of nylon or twill-weave fabrics and usually black in colour, are commonly used by members of pipe bands.