Dressing Gowns: The Short History
Nobody talks much about at-home leisure wear. But since homes seem once again destined to become more and more places of refuge, as well as entertainment centers, it’s an important part of the wardrobe. I’m putting my money on the dressing gown: it’s both comfortable, infinitely capable of variation from simple to ornate, and easily fitted.
From the Middle Ages until well into the Sixteenth century in Europe, men found relief from the stiff, heavy doublets and tunics by either simply wearing just a loose shirt in warm weather or an over-robe against the cold. But during the Seventeenth Century, men took to wearing house gowns which were more ornate versions of the simple muslin nightgowns they wore for bed. The reason was that growing trade and exploration between Europe and the Near and Far East steadily increased and exotic dress became the fashion for at-home wear, as did other exotic imports such as tea and chocolate, porcelain and chintz.
Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703), whose exacting diary provides much of our knowledge of the period, bought his first dressing gown on 1 July, 1661:
“This morning I went up and down into the City to buy several things (as I have lately done for my house): among other things, a fair chest of drawers for my own chamber and an Indian gown for myself. The first cost me 33s, the other 34s”.
We can infer the importance of the gown as an article of clothing from this diary entry, since it cost Pepys more than the piece of furniture! That these gowns were expensive and much-prized possessions is also evident from the fact that men frequently sat for their portraits wearing elaborately patterned dressing gowns. Pepys himself wore a golden-brown silk Indian gown when he sat for his portrait by John Hales in 1666.
These informal “house” gowns were never considered strictly correct for wear out of doors. Men wore them to relax privately at home, accompanied by a soft skull cap or turban and slippers (so both heavy wigs and boots could be removed for comfort). Originally called Persian, Turkish, or Indian gowns because of their Oriental origin and design, later terminology points to their usage: bed gown, morning gown, night gown, dressing gown. They were cut kimono-like and loose, full-length, with flowing sleeves, were first made of brightly printed cottons, then in silk brocade, damask, and velvet. The looser models were often worn wrapped-over and closed with a sash, while the more fitted ones typically had frogged button closures. They were sometimes quilted for warmth.
Up through the Eighteenth Century, as men’s day dress began to simplify into what would eventually become the somber suit of the Nineteenth Century, these dressing gowns continued to be exotic domestic attire in which men could take their ease with their families or receive guests as a sign of intimacy for levees or for the evening. These gowns were particularly useful garments when the morning toilette for gentlemen could stretch into several hours. That consummate dandy George “Beau” Brummell regularly spent the whole morning bathing, grooming and dressing, preparatory to a stroll, sporting event, or visit to his club. Often his levees attracted an appreciative audience that included the Prince of Wales. The Regency gentleman’s dressing gown was a loose wrap reaching to the ground, sashed at the waist, made of ornately printed cashmere, Indian silk brocade, or heavy damask, often in a paisley design. By mid-century this style had evolved to its modern conformations, the form and details – the shawl lapels, sleeve cuffs, sash — continuing with us today, and still the perfect garment for lounging about the house.
- bobine-fischer reblogged this from drakes-london
- ambshb likes this
- analpointg likes this
- actualityx likes this
- anyofthem likes this
- internalpolicy likes this
- thecasuallookofindifference reblogged this from drakes-london
- willhopkins likes this
- oregonjon likes this
- wmhunter likes this
- owleyes15 likes this
- moozella likes this
- nigel likes this
- dieworkwear likes this
- jacobcharleswilson likes this
- drakes-london posted this