Thursday, September 22, 2011

For the Gentlemen, Part I: A Silk Wrapping Gown, c. 1770

Thursday, September 22, 2011
Susan reporting:

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 Some wrapping gowns were made from outdated women's gowns, unpicked, cut, and sewn to recycle a costly piece of fabric.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


Hels said...

I am really pleased that, because the wrapping gown did not require elaborate tailoring, it was possible to use of the most extravagant and colourful available.

But that opened up a new issue - were men _prepared_ to wear striped silks and colourful linens? And if they were prepared to wear them inside the house, would they go visiting in them?

Anne Elizabeth said...

@Hels: In the 18th century, mens' fashion wasn't as sombre and dark as we know it today. (That started in the Regency and got cemented by the Victorians.) The 18th century was really the last period when men could be just as colourful, sparkly, ruffly and intricately dressed as women. There was nothing new or unusual about men wearing striped silks and colourful linens.

They wouldn't have worn them outdoors, though (there might have been exceptions, but they'd be classed as highly eccentric). You weren't fully dressed in a Banyan. They were more like today's sweatpants - a polite person wouldn't subject their surroundings to that kind of image, and also out of self-respect you'd dress well before leaving the house. Most men pictured in their banyan are seen sitting in their library/study.

Sarah said...

Very comfortable looking garment, nice and practical - now I know what it is I made for my husband, though his is for British Winters and is random patchwork on an old blanket for the lining. The wheel has turned full circle and men are allowed bright colours again after 200 years of being soberly garbed.

Hallie Larkin said...

For more on the subject "Dress" the Journal of the Costume Society of America has two articles written on the topic of men's gowns in the 18th century.

“Studious Men are Always Painted in Gowns” in Dress, 2002

“Eighteenth Century Nightgowns: The Gentleman’s Robe in Art and Fashion” in Dress, 1984

Cynthia Griffith said...

I had to send my husband a link to this entry... he's going to drool! He keeps going on and on about wanting one of these and has asked if he can help make one when the time comes :D

Isobel Carr said...

They're REALLY easy to make. I've made quite a few over the years (though we always called them banyans regardless of how tailored they were). I really love the ones with matching waistcoats and hats!

Charles Bazalgette said...

For more information and discussions on banyans ans similar garments, see Kathryn Kane's blog at

I think we have concluded that a more tailored garment could be called a banyan as well, and that the terms banyan, robe de chambre, morning gown etc were used pretty interchangeably.

Bridgett McGee said...

Thanks so much to ALL of you for this photos links and all.
So my husband, who occasionally "visits" the children and I in camp. Well, he is always looking, um how to I say this politely, askew, might be a good term. His collar is always twisted, his shoulders slouch, Suffice it to say he is by no means any sort of dandy.
Couldn't I, please, get away with covering it all up in a nice banyon? Like the sweet silk vintage smoking jacket that he occasionally wears. I don't really need to tell him that he would actually be portraying "the villiage nutcase" DO I? He would look SOOO much nicer....
He hardly ever walks about and prefers to stay in camp and poke at the fire day and night or ahng inder the fly .
Yeah you know THAT guy, "the casually dressed recluse"???

Kleidung um 1800 said...

What a beautiful garment and it emphazises how dull today's men's clothing often is - I wish these banyans would come in fashion again for stunning homewear:)


Isobel Carr said...

@Sabine: Almost every guy I've made one for now uses it in his everyday life, LOL! Once they have one, they just can't resist it.

Summerthor said...

I'm just finishing a Banyan for a friend, who will wear it for his Christmas Eve party in his 18th century house. He came to me with the pattern and we have worked on it together (including resizing the pattern for his ample girth) since the summer. He had had NO idea how much work it would be! I had tried to talk him into a wrapping gown, instead.

But... regarding the wrapping gown that Mark Hutter of Colonial Williamsburg is modeling. Mark is seen wearing it outside in this post and I had watched a live FB video of him in the wrapping gown as he oversaw the move of the Taylor shop to it's new location. He was wearing the wrapping gown outside during the move and live broadcast. Was he being "eccentric"?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Summerthor ~ Well, Mark CAN be eccentric *g* - but here in his guise as an 18thc tailor/tradesman in a warm climate, he's not being eccentric at all. While banyans and other dressing gowns were considered primarily at-home leisure wear and not "dressed" enough to wear outside the house, in places like Tidewater Virginia in the summer and Caribbean plantations, the unlined, loose-fitting garments were so much cooler than a traditional close-fitting coat that the fashion rules were relaxed, and men wore them out-of-doors. Mark has found documentation of 18thc gentlemen strolling the streets of Williamsburg in the hottest months wearing gowns like this over linen breeches and shirts, and there are prints showing planters doing the same. So if your friend lives in the south, tell him the next summer he may freely parade in his banyan, and display all your hard work to the world without shocking polite society. ;)

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