Because today is a travel day for me, I'm sharing one of my favorite posts from our archives, featuring a banyan, or dressing gown, worn by a stylish English prince.
In 2013, I had the great good fortune to see the exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI.
Men's wear is often sadly under-represented in fashion collections, making this exhibition of historical and contemporary male clothing that made a bold personal statement for the wearer even more exciting (at least for Nerdy History People, anyway.) There was one room after another of fantastic clothes, from the beautiful linen shirts favored by Beau Brummell to Fred Astaire's tuxedo to Andy Warhol's paint-splattered Ferragamo oxfords.
While the exhibition has long since closed, highlights are still on line here, and the splendid hardcover companion book is available here.
One of the special pieces for me was this 18th c. banyan once worn by George IV (1762-1830) while he was Prince of Wales. (The banyan was making a rare appearance state-side, on loan from the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.) Banyans were a kind of dressing-gown or robe worn by Georgian gentlemen as informal attire (for more information and other examples, see our blogs here, here, and here.) The elaborately patterned cotton chintz would not only have been comfortable - a welcome break from the formal silks of court life - but as a costly textile imported from India, the cotton would also have made a luxurious statement fit for a royal prince.
This banyan was quilted for extra warmth, and the braided closures and high collar, left, add to its exotic appeal. We tend to think of George IV in his later portly days as the Prince Regent, but this banyan, made between 1780-1790, proves that he cut a much less substantial figure as a young man in his twenties – although apparently there are interior panels that prove that the banyan was let out over time to accommodate his growing girth.
I particularly liked the quote that accompanied the banyan. Attributed to George "Beau" Brummell, it perfectly sums up the life around the Prince of Wales and his circle in late 18th c. Brighton, with young gentlemen elegantly lounging in banyans like this one: "Come to Brighton, my dear fellow. Let us be off tomorrow; we'll eat currant-tart, and live in chintz and salt-water."
Banyan, maker unrecorded, c. 1780-90. From the collection of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Top photo: RISD Museum. Lower photo: Brighton & Hove Museum.
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.