This Gentleman’s Banyan is based on the original c 1760s garment in Historic Deerfield. During a seminar given by Mr. Edward Maeder, Curator of the Textile Collection at Historic Deerfield, the pattern for this garment was drafted with his assistance. The pattern was then modified to fit a smaller man. The original was made for a robust gentleman.
This garment is hand sewn using Au Ver a Soie 1003 silk thread. The fashion fabric is burgundy silk damask from Delectable Mountain Cloth, approximately 3 1/2 yards. Green half silk was used for the lining, including sleeves and waistcoat. The front is interfaced with french linen canvas from Greenberg and Hammer, NY. Tassels were constructed over wooden molds, using silk floss and fly fringe made from Japanese flat silk.
What is a banyan? The banyan is an article of men’s clothing believed to have its roots in the East India and Orient trade, the word is derived from an Indian word for merchant or trader. Banyans are also described in period literature and diaries as bannians, Indian gowns, morning gowns, loose gowns and nightgowns. There are two basic styles: a loose T shape, kimono like garment and a more fitted coat style, usually with a matching waistcoat, which may be attached to the banyan at the side seams and some sort of front closure often frogs or tassel closures. Silks, especially silk damask, painted and printed cottons, wool and linen are the fabrics that make up the extant garments in museums and collections.
Some banyans are quilted or inter-lined with wool batting for warmth, as is the case with the silk damask banyan at Historic Deerfield represented above. Studious gentleman as well as prosperous traders and merchants often had their portraits painted wearing their banyans. This exotic garment is well represented in period portraits. The National Portrait Gallery has an online exhibition entitled “Franklin and His Friends: Portraying the Man of Science in 18th Century America” and showcases a number of 18th century studious gentlemen in a variety of “loose gowns”. The wearing of loose clothing was believed to stimulate creative thought. “Loose dresses contribute to the easy and vigorous exercise of the faculties of the mind. This remark is so obvious, and so generally known, that we find studious men are always painted in gowns” Benjamin Rush There is a good collection of banyans in the Manchester City Galleries, Manchester, England. The online exhibition includes a green damask gown in the kimono or T shape, a fitted blue damask banyan with matching waistcoat and a quilted cotton banyan with the provenance of belonging to King George.
In most portraits of gentleman in banyans, they are usually also wearing a cap. The caps are of many varieties, loose turban, quartered cap, gathered and can be made of linen, silk, embroidered, tambour work or painted/printed cotton. These caps survive in large numbers, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts has an especially large collection and many are available for viewing online.