This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Cloaks. [Originally spelled clokke and until recently cloke. The word is derived from clock, which piece of mechanism, when first made, was of the shape of a bell, and sounded the hours with a clapper. The cloak when first used for a garment was bell-shaped and without sleeves, hence the name] Properly a loose outer garment without sleeves, worn by either sex as a protection against the weather; at present, however, the term is used for any sort of sleeved wrap, long or short, worn by women. Though a garment of great antiquity, cloaks have in the course of many centuries varied but little, save in being at times short or long, ornamental or useful. They have frequently been common to both sexes, and by English laws of the time of Edward IV (1441 - 1483) were legally regulated as to the length they should be cut and who should wear them. Then no person under the degree of a lord was allowed to wear a cloak which was not of sufficient length "as being upright to cover his private members and buttocks upon pain of being fined fourty shillings." The fashion of wearing short cloaks has frequently recurred, and cloaks of light and costly materials have been worn by men, particularly in the dissolute courts of the early Stuarts. It was one of these latter garments which Sir Walter Raleigh gallantly threw upon the muddy ground that Queen Elizabeth might pass with dry shoes, which act of gallantry ingratiated him into the Queen's good will and brought him life-long favors. Under the name of Spanish cloak this garment was worn from about 1800 to 1840 in Great Britain and America, the shape being a half-circle; it had a broad collar, often velvet or fur, which was continued down the edges of the cloak on both sides. The same garment is still worn as the most common winter dress in Italy.
At the present day, when well-fitting, stylish and comfortable cloaks may be bought for very little money, the wonder is that the styles are not more varied. The styles in the United States are more varied than those of the outer garments for men, but hundreds of cloaks of the same pattern may be seen in the streets of a city any day. Cloaks are garments on which women cannot show much originality in making them at home, as they can on dresses, and the styles are, therefore, fixed by the designers employed by manufacturers. In many instances the styles depend on the material to be used, as it would be useless to design a style with many puffs and folds for a thick and heavy material. Besides if the style be good the cloak is acceptable to many women whether it be suited or un-suited to their figures. In making cloaks, where the demand may be sometimes for 500 of a certain style, each piece of cloth is thoroughly examined by experts in regard to measure, texture, and color, and then it is sponged by machinery made especially for that purpose. All "smooth" cloths and those with finished faces are sponged by cupper rollers, and the machinery is so arranged that from the time the cloth starts until it is folded dry, it is not touched by the operator. The cloth is then ready for the cutters, with all its imperfections marked. Each cutter has a separate check upon which have been entered the particulars about the cloth, style, and proper patterns. If the quantity be large enough for the cutting machine, it is marked and laid in folds, but small pieces are cut by hand with shears. After the cloth has been cut according to the provided patterns, the bundles are carefully compared with the orders, and then a ticket is made for each garment, on which is a place for each worker to put his or her number, so that a complete record is kept of every hand that works on the garment. The garments then go to the seamers, who are employed the year round to seam them on machines specially adjusted for that particular work, being provided with a fixed gauge that insures a perfectly uniform seam. Expert seamers can work at machines that make 3000 stitches a minute. For the detection of any possible mistakes and imperfections in the fit, the garments are tried on models before being sent to the trimmers. The collars, cuffs, facings, etc., of each garment are cut according to the style designed, and, with the "body" sent to a workman who particularly excels in that portion of the labor. After leaving the finisher the garment is inspected again by the foreman, and if it be not satisfactory, it goes back to the workman for alterations. After the making of buttonholes and the sewing on of buttons and ornaments, the garments go to the presser, and from here to the final examiners and model, who are responsible for the fit and workmanship, and who see that the materials and trimmings are right, and that any changes that may have been ordered to suit certain customers have been properly made. Then they are ready for packing and shipping.
Records of the shape, cloth, trimmings and buttons, or any other parts of the garment, are kept in duplicate, so that a copy of any garment can be made at any time. Sometimes cloaks that are in fashion in the East for a year do not reach the far West until a year or more afterward, when some particular style may be favored more than another, and the orders for it be larger than those for any other. By turning to the records, exact duplicates of any style can be made at any time, provided that the material be in the market. One of the most important if not the most responsible positions in a cloak factory is that of the model, or "figure," and upon securing good ones depends the prosperity of the establishment. The fact that women for the position of models are paid from $12 to $18 per week for comparatively easy work is an indication that they cannot be had in great numbers. It requires no experience to be a model, but it does require natural grace and fine physical proportions - in fact, "the female form divine." Good looks do not count, though a show-room figure must have attractions and dress much better than the fitting-model in the work-shop. Manufacturers as a rule require a woman of about 5 feet, 6 l/2 inches in height. She seldom goes under that, but sometimes half an inch more is desirable. The professional figure has a natural grace about her that cannot be acquired by artificial means. Any young woman who has the heigth mentioned above, a bust measurement of 36 inches, waist 24 inches, length of back from 16 1/2 to 17 inches, arms 24 inches, neck 12 1/2 inches, hips 42 inches, and 13 1/2 inches across the shoulders, is a perfect figure and can find steady employment in any cloak house at any time she chooses. The show-room models generally have a contract for all the year around and are paid in full for the same, but they seldom have anything to do except in January and Febuary when the buyers flock to market for the purchase of spring goods, and in July and August when they lay in a supply of fall and winter wraps. The workroom models are always kept busy. They are the hardest worked of any in the establishment, for upon her is tried twice at least every garment turned out. The sample, or trying-on model must be the most perfect. She, too, is compelled to toil the year round. Large houses employ from 12 to 15 models.
In Europe the method of cloak manufacture is not carried on as in this country. In both England and Germany, and in Berlin especially, the cloakmakers, in a way, get their styles from Paris. They willingly pay a high price for the brains and ideas of the French fashion-makers. The majority of these come from Worth, the fountain-head of Fashion. When the season opens the manufacturers have a large assortment of patterns ready for all countries and tastes. The buyers come, select their styles, place their orders, with changes here and there, or with other combinations and sorts of materials. When the manufacturer has booked his orders, he buys his stock. Then he gets his cloakmakers, who take the goods, trimmings and belongings to their shops, where they have to do all the sponging, cutting, modeling, sewing, pressing and finishing and deliver the garments ready for shipment. If there are any defects in the work the cloak-maker has to make them good. The manufacturer has no further responsibility, except to pay the men the stipulated price, and no other function than the furnishing of the goods and patterns in the manufacturing operations.