Saturday, March 23, 2024

Capes Are Not Just for Super Heroes

The headline made reading the story irresistible: 

“Martin Greenfield, Tailor to Sinatra, Obama, Trump and Shaq, Dies at 95”(

I was hooked not by the reference to Obama, Shaq or Trump, but by Sinatra, for it was his name that linked Martin Greenfield to my wife, Gilda. 

Among the many skills Gilda has mastered in her professional career spanning nearly 6 decades—as a waitress, office manager, newborn intensive care nurse, ICU-CCU step down unit nurse, nursery school aide, pre-and postpartum counselor, research coordinator for infectious diseases, and nurse practitioner specializing in pre- and post-spine surgery assessments—is an East Greenwich Village summer job she held while in college. 

Gilda was a seamstress in an avant-garde establishment catering to the notable and eccentric trade. Indeed, she sewed a cape for none other than Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. 

The cape was black. With a red lining. 

Gilda had been working as a clerical assistant at Hartz Mountain headquarters near Astor Place in Manhattan. Not able to afford a ready-to-wear wardrobe, she sewed her own outfits. One was a green dress that required button holes her home sewing machine was not equipped to make. 

She brought the nearly finished dress to a nearby East Village store, Capes for Men. Admiring the workmanship, the owner asked who made the dress. I did, said Gilda. Impressed by her skill, she offered Gilda a job on the spot. 

Capes for Men also specialized in knit dresses for women, though one of the customers Gilda observed trying on a dress was most definitely a man, she surprisingly discovered as the patron emerged from a dressing room wearing only tight red boxer underwear leaving little to the imagination of what it was hiding. Keep in mind that this revelation transpired in the mid-1960s when Gilda was in her late teens and a person’s public anatomy was not so gender fluid. 

Gilda never had the opportunity to meet Sinatra to ask him if he liked the cape. She never really was a big fan of his, anyway. Six decades later she hasn’t lost her touch around a sewing machine, though not to make apparel from scratch anymore. For the record, I sew on my own buttons when needed.  

Also, for the record, there are some fashionistas who believe a cape is reemerging as a staple of a man’s wardrobe (