Sunday, September 25, 2011

For the Gentlemen, Part II: A Chintz & Silk Banyan, c. 1770-1810

Sunday, September 25, 2011
Susan reporting:

I promised I'd return to the subject of an 18th c. gentleman's "undress" – the garments he wore to relax, to keep cool, or for less formal moments at home in the morning or evening before bed. My last post was about wrapping gowns, and this one is about banyans. The two are close cousins, and the terms are often used interchangeably, not only by modern costume historians, but in 18th c primary sources, too. (Here are several 18th c. portraits of gentlemen in their wrapping gowns and banyans.)

As always, please click on the pictures to enlarge them for details.
According to Mark Hutter, tailor, historic trades, Colonial Williamsburg, (and a very good friend to this blog!), a banyan is the more closely fit garment, tailored with set-in sleeves, fastenings, and often a collar. Banyans can be unlined and made from light fabrics for warm-weather wear, or lined and quilted for extra warmth.

Because of their structure, banyans are closer to coats, and in their role as a bridge between dress and undress, some banyans have matching waistcoats of the same fabric. While a banyan would be "casual" for an 18th c. gentlemen, he would still be wearing it with a shirt, cap, breeches, waistcoat, stockings, and shoes or slippers; informality is historically relative. Here's a gorgeous example of a matching banyan and waistcoat  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and another - my personal favorite - that was fashioned from a Chinese dragon robe.

Like wrapping gowns, banyans entered Western European fashion through merchant trading with the East. While wrapping gowns reflect a Japanese influence, banyans are more closely linked to traditional dress from India, and the first appearance of banyans on English gentlemen in the early 18th c. is tied to the growing impact of the East India Company.

When I last visited Colonial Williamsburg this summer, tailor Neal Hurst was completing an exact copy of an original banyan (c. 1770-1810) currently in CW's collection. Both original and copy are cut to fit a very slender man, perhaps even an adolescent, and while there was no one in the shop who could model the banyan, Mark did point out several of its features. This banyan was unlined and probably intended for summer wear. The fabric is a light Indian cotton chintz, mordant painted and dyed, that would have been imported to England. The bright pink facings are ribbed cherry silk, and the same silk is used to pipe the sleeve cuffs and pocket openings. Self-covered buttons close the cuffs. While the replica banyan in my photograph wasn't quite finished, it would be closed across the front with three sets of narrow self-cords that would tie with bows (see the original), highlighting the off-center, Indian-inspired front.
Many thanks to Mark for once again sharing his expertise and knowledge, and complements to Neal on his beautiful tailoring.


Hels said...

They are very leisurely and sexy garments, aren't they? Soft in material, but also good for lounging around in.

It is amazing that these clothes entered Western European fashion through merchant trading with the exotic East: wrapping gowns like the Japanese and banyans like the Indians. The East India Company did in the 18th century for men what Balles Russes did for turbans and harem pants for women in 1910->

Anonymous said...

The angled front of this garment looks more traditional Chinese than Indian to me. Like a changshan.

gio said...

They are beautiful! They look comfortable and practical too.

Cassandra said...

A newcomer here, delighted to have discovered this blog!

I had long thought, as apparently many do, that gentlemen's banyans were exclusively at-home wear, though suitable for receiving friends. Last week, however, while in Williamsburg, I was surprised to learn from the interpreter at the milliner's shop (referring to the very garment pictured here) that they were frequently worn in public as well, to the taverns, coffeehouses, or any place of informal gathering.

It seems rules were never so rigid as we think ...

Anonymous said...

Would the garment worn by the Count of Monte Cristo be considered a banyan, or somesuch? See:

Marvelous story, by the way, and the 1992 movie is luscious to look at. As is James Caviezel.

-Susan S

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