A history of dressing gowns1
March 26, 2016 by Ville Raivio
The dressing gown is a loose, light and comfortable layer for pyjamas or leisurewear. Its pedigree reaches back to the court dress of Persia, which was carried all the way to Europe on the journeys of diplomats and the like on the Silk Road. Enthused by them, the banyan, a flashy, long and loose lounging jacket for home use was born in the 1700s. It was cut in the shape of the letter T and preferably made from richly decorated silk as a sign of wealth. At first, the garment had no buttons and it was closed with a belt while the sleeves were rolled back. Often this lounging jacket was worn with a vest underneath, made from the same fabric. Contemporary heavy perukes were usually removed at home and replaced with sack-like turbans, a part of the banyan dress. It was most suitable to lounge, receive close guests or play cards in this costume. As time advanced, the garment was increasingly made to reseble an overcoat, even though the hem was very loose and gentlemen already took to heading outdoors while wearing banyans. Dressing gowns, based on previous banyans, were finally created before the end of the 1800s. These were not baselayer underwear but worn above pyjamas, nightshirts and such.
Before modern insulation- and construction techniques as well as central heating arrived, western appartments were invariably cold or at least draughty places. The inner constructions of suits and ceremonial clothes were likewise stiff, so most gentlemen threw them off at home. For more than a century, the dressing gown was useful so that shivering was avoided, lolling succeeded – and one didn’t shame himself half-nude when a surprise guest arrived. Most dressing gowns were tartan-patterned or plain before the 1920s, and their material was strong, warm wool or cotton flannel. Only later did the banyan-spirited crackling cloths return on men, and the gown’s belt or cords were reworked more ornamental. Pockets as well grew greatly in size.
The most common lapel model for dressing gowns has been the rounded shawl- or roll collar, familiar from some dinner jackets worn by a certain James Bond. The garment’s hem has shortened in time, tender silk cloths have become rare, and these days few men even own a dressing gown. The bathrobe has become much more popular and its plain terry cloth removes moisture after showering, is easy to clean and lasts well with wear. As apartments are warmer still around Europe, the popularity of dressing gowns has plummeted — and neither can they be called essential clothes as one can do without just fine. Still, the dressing gown likely appeals to vintage-inspired dressers and the man who enjoys stylish lounging.
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Well, my house is still cold, even in 2016, and I can’t afford the heat all the time. A dressing gown is a much cheaper solution for me (though my guests still complain about the cold!).