Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
The Gentleman of the House
In this vignette, the gentleman of the house has retired to his suite after a lively evening at a ball; it is 3:00am, and he has changed from his heavily starched shirt, celluloid collar, and fitted evening jacket (tuxedos were considered “informal”) into a comfortable lounging robe to partake of a nightcap liqueur. The ebonized and brass inlay liqueur cabinet -- containing four crystal decanters, sixteen liqueur glasses, and a small tray -- was used by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt at his 1929 villa designed by Maurice Fatio in Manalapan, FL. Near the liqueur cabinet, his cigars are stored in a whimsical wooden humidor in the form of an owl, formerly part of the Morris family collection displayed in the library of Malbone, the 1849-1850 Gothic Revival house in Newport designed by Alexander Jackson Davis. Beside the gentleman is an early 20th century bronze over copper standing ashtray by Tiffany Studios, New York.
As early as the mid-17th century, burgeoning trade with the East compelled a Western gentleman with a penchant for the exotic to incorporate the Asian-inspired dressing gown, sometimes called a banyan in men's fashion, into his wardrobe. The banyan was the original at-home leisure wear, worn as an informal coat over a shirt and breeches or as fashionable attire in which to greet guests or for daily toilette. George “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840), the consummate dandy credited with introducing the modern men's suit worn with a necktie, was known for stretching his morning toilette over several hours, and this lavish velvet banyan would have appealed to him.
Photography by Al Weems