March 21, 2013 by Ville Raivio
The Yalta conference has left plenty of Americans scratching their heads. Held from the fourth to the eleventh of February in 1945, the conference was a meeting of the most powerful victors of World War II. The UK was represented by one Winston Churchill, The Soviet Union by a certain Stalin and the USA’s main man was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The three met to discuss the future of Europe after the second great war, but this is a story best left for other sites to cover. Instead Keikari will take a look at a certain sartorial oddity preserved in official pictures of said event, namely the cape worn by FDR. This naval officer cape is the most flamboyant garment worn by any American president, leaving plenty of latter-day spectators scratching their heads as to its origins. While Stalin and Churchill presented themselves in their standard apparel, Roosevelt arrived to Yalta in a dramatic cape, though the reasoning behind the garment is clear.
In 1921 Roosevelt contracted polio, which maimed his legs from the waist down and left the candidate wheelchair-bound. He spent the rest of his life in a state of denial, being supported by iron braces or aides when appearing in public. The presiden’t assistants soon found out how laborious and cumbersome daily life became for the country’s main man. Adjustements were made, the dapper cape being one of the many. Allowing greater freedom of movement as well as convenient lifting from his wheelchair, FDR adopted the cape as his signature piece. Polio had changed Roosevelt to an even gentler, kinder person than before, and the garment became a conflicting, pert piece on an otherwise composed man.
Roosevelt’s cape was of naval officer issue, titled boat cloak, in heavy navy blue wool with a black velvet collar. Its intricate cord frogging was placed high, opening and closing with a barrel loop. History buffs, wheelchair patients and vintage enthusiasts will be delighted to read that similar pieces can be found occasionally on eBay and fleamarkets. Its origins most likely hark back to Roosevelt’s time as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, which time also left him with a lifelong interest in the American navy.
Pictures: © original uploader