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Pictures of Nightgowns, Nightcaps, Dressing Gowns and Banyans | History of Fashion Design

Pictures of Nightgowns, Nightcaps, Dressing Gowns and Banyans


17th; 18th Century French gowns and caps from Racinet1. More pictures below the text. A Nightgown (aka Banyan) was worn indoors as very informal day or night wear, often over a shirt and breeches, but not to bed. Cut similar to a kimono, they are thought to be adaptations of these garments based on Asian imports.

A banyan was quite a few different things, but since it is in my opinion, probably one of the sexiest garments ever made for men, I’m sort of “up” on info about them. Starting in the late 17th century, and through the beginning of the 19th century men in Europe wore a variety of different styles of robe, which now we collectively call “banyans”. The origin of both the term and garments are debatable, but what is consistent about all of them is that they were loose robes, of Asian cut, worn indoors for informal occasions, usually over one’s shirt/vest/breeches during the day, and worn as a kind of bathrobe over one’s nightgown (presupposing one wore one) at night before going to bed [not in bed]. It is the precursor to a dressing gown, but didn’t originally have fitted sleeves, or the more tailored look of 19th Century dressing gowns.


Cut varied depending on the models used. Some are clearly based on Persian style, East Indian or Turkish style men’s robes (probably the first ones were imports), while others are cut much closer to Kimono. Some early American examples look as though they are economically cut from a single East Indian cotton block printed bedspread, of the patterns still used today. Two examples of made for export to Europe puffy quilted silk kimono robes exist that were sold in Holland for winter and worn there under the name “rock” which was the term used in that country. [These were featured in the exhibition “Japonism in Fashion”] They look like a kimono with arm slits sewn up, and filled with batting till the wearer looks like an ambulatory Japanese sleeping bag. Two early American examples done in light Indian printed cottons are shown in the book “Fitting ; Proper”, these are cut with narrower sleeves, and in one case with a printed border going down the front. Not too many examples survive total, but enough to know that they were cut a variety of ways and were done in whatever material simultaneously suited the weather and looked either exotic or opulent to the wearer…

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has 2 late 18th century American banyan patterns)

French intellectuals seem to make a point in the mid 18th century with getting painted wearing their banyans instead of outdoor wear. Late 17th Century Englishmen do this too for a short period as well. According to the book reviewed here, the convention was imported to early American portraiture as well: dead link

Another review of the same book states:

“David Marten’s 1767 portrait of Benjamin Franklin, for example, has the scientist reading in a red velvet chair. He is slumped over a red velvet-covered table strewn with books, a text in his left hand and his right thumb gracefully and gently supporting his tranquil visage. He wears a blue velvet suit with gold braid and buttons and a wig, all symbols of wealth, like the red velvet curtain behind him. The combination of scientific practice and refined leisure and wealth is reinforced by the presence of Sir Isaac Newton, whose bronze bust peers down approvingly at Franklin from the left. Perhaps the most powerful symbol of scientific gentility is the ubiquitous banyan, a loose fitting robe of East Indian origin. Early American scientists and scholars posed in banyans to communicate the purely intellectual or spiritual character of their endeavors; “a banyan in eighteenth-century portraiture seems to indicate a body at ease,giving free rein to the mind’s work” (Franklin, 53). When the APS commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint Franklin in 1789, he depicted him seated, resting on his elbow, in a blue damask banyan with a conspicuous pink silk lining. The combination of aristocratic repose in the posture, wealth in the costume, and scientific prowess in the composition (lightning strikes a building in the distance while Franklin holds the tip of a lightning rod) all exemplify the ways in which portraiture of the learned imbued intellectual endeavors with the markings of gentility.” -Darren M. Staloff

Color photo of original c. 1750 man’s at home clothing from 18th Century Costumes From Karl Kohler’s Kostumekunde

Here is a surviving banyan shown at the bottom of This page also quotes: Akiko Fukai, in “Revolution In Fashion”, remarked, “On one banyan, cherry and pine trees in Japanese Yuzen style were painted in India on Indian cotton. By such subtle means, the culture of Japan was being spread throughout Europe, often without specific recognition.”

In the 19th Century, the style morphs away from Asian models and begins to be cut more like a loose light weight version of a European man’s coat, now called a “dressing gown”. Two examples of the “before” and “after” look can be viewed here I had fun designing some for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” for Valmont and Danceny. Here are the designs and finished versions of Valmont’s:


A few of the films with scenes with guys wearing them include (but are not limited to): The Patriot (Tom Wilkinson as General Cornwallis has a scene in one), Dangerous Liaisons (John Malkovitch has several scenes in one),The Clandestine Marriage(lots of these in various scenes on various people). John Hurt as the Marques of Montrose has one in Rob Roy, complete with turban like cap, and Julian Sands as Louis XIV wears one in two scenes of Vatel.18th Century Costume Flicks

Flemish lace cap of the Emperor Charles V (16th Century) from Mrs. Bury Pallisers’ History of Lace

Robe de chambre (aka “banyan” or “nightgown”): 1688, the poet Lenoble in a robe de chambre, and a gentleman, 1695 from Leloir.

Pattern for an early 18th century Robe de chambre (aka “banyan” or “nightgown”) from Leloir.

Turban style “nightcap” worn in indoors, 1696 from Leloir.

bob wig from Diderot.

Related topic: 18th Century Men,s Hair & Wigs

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Silk gown in the Musée de la Mode et du Textile

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Late 18th Century Quilted Dressing gown at the Museum of London

French embroidered child’s hat, Similar to men’s caps, 18th Century (Kohler)

Plate 42. A grey morning coat of flowered chintz, with nankeen trousers. 1830-50 from 19th Century Costumes from the Victoria and Albert Museum as seen in “Old English Costumes” c.1908

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