I've written here before about banyans and wrapping gowns, the garments that 18th century gentlemen turned to for their "undress" - what they wore informally at home and among family and close friends. Thanks to Mark Hutter, tailor, historic trades, Colonial Williamsburg, I have more to contribute on the topic - plus these photographs of Mark himself wearing an 18th century-style gentleman's dressing gown. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)
A wrapping gown is a loose-fitting, flared garment, made in a T shape with wide sleeves (as opposed to a banyan, which is more tailored and fitted - more about those next week.) Wrapping gowns had no fastenings or buttons, and were usually worn in place of a coat or jacket, over breeches and a shirt. They could be lined or unlined, depending on the season and whether more warmth was needed. The goal was comfort.
Wrapping gowns were usually available ready-made in shops and warehouses. Because their simple shape did not require the complicated piecing and tailoring of most 18th c. men's clothes, wrapping gowns could make use of the most extravagant fabrics of the era: bold stripes in silk or linen, or large-scale damasks, and printed cottons imported from the East Indies. Colors were often bold as well, and a gentleman who only wore somber suits in public might wear a flamboyant cherry-red silk wrapping gown at home. Some wrapping gowns were made from outdated women's gowns, unpicked, cut, and sewn to recycle a costly piece of fabric. Here is a wrapping gown in a bright worsted-silk tartan, worn in Great Britain between 1770-1800. Here is another, c. 1730, in two different patterns of cotton chintz, and yet another here, c. 1700-1750, that makes the most of a bordered, resist-print cotton from India
Inspiration for "new" fashions in Western European dress often come by way of international trade, and wrapping gowns are no exception. Mark noted how wrapping gowns first appear in Holland in the mid-17th century, about the same time that Dutch merchants were making their first trading voyages to Japan. Certainly the distinctive shape and cut of the wrapping gown is very similar to the Japanese kimono, and there are references to "Japanese coats" worn by the Dutch traders.
Mark made the wrapping gown that he is wearing in these pictures based on 18th c examples. The fabric is a silk woven stripe, unlined for wear in Virginia summers. Note how the flaring shape makes the most of the stripes, particularly in how the stripes match and miter handsomely at the side seams. Many thanks to Mark for sharing his expertise and knowledge as well as posing for my camera!
Coming Monday: For the Gentlemen, Part II: A Silk Banyan, c. 1770
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.