A man’s Banyan of ca. 1750 reconstructed
Text Martin Ciszuk
Banyan is originally a Hindu word meaning trader. The term reached Europe via English and Dutch trading contacts with India in the 17th century. This origins in the great fascination for oriental style textile and furnishing that flourished in the 18th century’s. The Swedish word mostly used was morgonrock or nattrock, morning gown or night gown, in French robe de chambre. Many of these gowns took their inspiration from oriental costumes like kimono, caftan or Polish coats. The garment survived as smoking frock in the late 19th and early 20th century and is a predecessor of our modern dressing gown.
The banyan was an informal gown worn at home as negligé. The cultivated men in the 18th century made an important difference between formal and informal wear. At home for everyday wear, men took of the uncomfortable wig and the heavy, stiff and tight coats to wear a loose fitting long gown together with nightcap and slippers. It was customary to receive visitors in the morning dressed in banyan. This was influenced by the French court etiquette - the levée, where the king held important receptions during which he was dressed. Artist often depicted themselves in banyan. It was a practical working gown and signalled their artistic and informal lifestyle. The ladies wore a similar garment called contouche.
The English/Indian term banyan mostly denotes a double breasted long fitted gown with fitted sleeves and often with sewn in waistcoat fronts. I good example (dated ca 1780) is in Nordiska Museet, Stockholm, made from an Indian tie-dyed cotton marked with the stamp of the English East Indian company. Probably this banyan was also sewn in India. Other night gowns were simpler cut, resembling kimonos or made from straight pieces of cloth gathered at the neck and closed with a ribbon tie and a sash. Printed cotton and chintz –originally Indian painted and glazed cotton fabrics- were popular for these oriental style gowns. Large scale patterns were often used, even if they otherwise were intended for furnishing. Many banyans were also made in exclusive silk with decoration of braids and tassels. The night gown also had a warming function for cold mornings in draughty castles and manor houses. The garment was currently lined with wool or velvet. The most expensive had a lining of silk plush. A velvet with long pile resembling fur. There are samples from the Swedish production of this fabric in. Modeer collection, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm. There they are among the most costly of the fabrics because of the big amount of silk needed to produce them.
The cut of the reconstructed banyan is taken from Norah Vaugh’s book The cut of men’s clothes. It is very elegant and dated ca 1750. The front is double breasted with 12 pairs of buttons. There is a small standing collar and pockets with flaps in the side seam. The back is cut on the bias grain and the skirts are elegantly widening from the waist, mostly in the back giving an elegant swag when the garment is worn and moving. The sleeves are shaped and have turned up cuffs.
The banyan is made from the blue silk damask Flora. The original is a Chinese damask imported by the Swedish East Indian company and represented in several Swedish (and also American collections), where it is used both for furnishing and clothing dating from mid 18th century to early 19th century. The lining is a block printed cotton Lingon, for which the original is a sample print on cotton dated 1739 in the Berch collection, Nordiska museet. The banyan is worn with linen shirt and cotton stockings, with knee breeches in the silk Celadon brown and a waistcoat in brown silk droguet Näckros.
A matching night cap is worn for the informal costume. (Men in the 18th century were often shaved under the wig) The night cap is made from waded and quilted silk damask and is decorated with an elaborate tassel in silk. On the feet Indian slippers in embroidered silk
The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900, Norah Vaugh
Modelejon. Manligt mode 1500,1600 och 1700-tal, Lena Ragnström et al.
l’Encyclopédie. Art de l’Habillement, Diderot & d’Alembert
(big picture – click on picture)
Blue silk damask Banyan with block printed lining.
French fashion plate of “Robe de Chambre”, Gentlemen’s Banyan.
The back is cut on the bias grain and the skirts are elegantly widening from the waist.
A quilted nightcap is worn for the informal costume.
Milliner, Annette Sandberg.
The front is double breasted with 12 pairs of buttons.
Pockets with flaps in the side seam.