Bathrobes are an essential part of relaxing, be it after a shower or just roaming around the house. As we can easily realize, the post-shower garment is not a modern item; different depictions of it can be seen going back to the early ages. Today, the bathrobe is a symbol of luxury and comfort, yet they were not merely used for drying oneself but also for daily and cosmetic reasons throughout the ages. Let’s look at the history of the bathrobe.
The word bathrobe comes from French word “robe.” While the term refers to women’s dresses, fret not, as robes and bathrobes are gender-neutral garments. We now have many different versions bathrobes for men, and the bathrobe isn’t considered as something only for women or men.
If we were to elaborate on the French word “robe,” it refers to a loose, flowing garment with sleeves in different languages and cultures.
Ancient Greece is the home to one of the first examples of a robe. In the 9th century BC, Greeks wore brightly colored robes with decorations that symbolized the wearer’s place of residence called chitons.
What separates the ancient robes from modern bathrobes is the existence of sleeves. While we know that people of Ancient Greece wore different iterations of capes and togas, they also wore a predecessor to our bathrobes, usually made of thin and lightweight fabrics.
In ancient times, Romans wore robe-like garments as they shared much of their culture with the Ancient Greeks. Ancient Romans used to wear robes under their togas on special and formal occasions to represent their social status. Longer robes with colored stripes were by people of higher social status and class.
Japanese kimonos are the closest to the modern bathrobe from a design point of view. Robe designs are still heavily influenced by the kimono as it changed the way the world viewed clothing in general.
Kimonos first appeared in Japan in the Heian period, at some time between 800 and 1000 AD. The Heian kimono was produced with a tailoring technique that was known as the straight-cut-line method. This new method revolutionized the way Japanese people dressed. Japanese people used to wear blouses or jackets with trousers or skirts until the kimono was found. The new shape of dressing that kimono brought covered the entire body and gave people a one-piece alternative. The kimono covered the whole body and thus had it was unisex garment. This fact eased the minds of clothing manufacturers, as it made it easier and more efficient for them to produce.
This one-size-fits-all type of tailoring is still used in modern bathrobes, while we also use different-sized bathrobes specifically dedicated to women and men, respectively. Kimonos are worn as traditional wear at ceremonies, tea parties, weddings, and other special events in Japan. In the rest of the world, the kimono is more usually worn for special events or as a leisure garment.
China and Japan are famous for their old and new kimonos, especially because the robes are made out of natural silk with master craftsmanship and intricate detailing. The coloring, sewing, and decorating of kimonos represent a form of art in these two countries due to their rich history.
Recent History in Europe
Affected by their ancestors, Europeans began integrating robes into their daily lives. Members of the churches and academia started wearing robes around the 12th and 13th centuries. Members of the Catholic and Orthodox churches wore the cassock, a precursor of today’s robes. Cassocks are still worn by the clergy today at special events and ceremonies.
In the 12th century clergyman established foundations of the modern universities. Due to this the tradition of wearing robes was also migrated to these establishments. Both students and the teachers of the academia also wore robes after a while in their daily affairs. Today, they only wear them at graduation ceremonies.
In many European countries, judges and lawyers wear robes in the court of law. In the United States, judges wear robes while lawyers wear casual clothes.
The Bathrobe in Modern Times
One direct influencer of the modern bathrobe is the 18th-century banyan – a morning gown, robe de chambre, or nightgown worn by men. It was worn over the shirt and trousers, most usually at home. It was mostly inspired by the kimono, brought to Europe by traders that had visited Japan. The banyan had a loose, T-shaped, kimono-style design and cotton, linen, or silk were the main choices of fabric.
The banyan was famous among the intellectuals and philosophers around the 18th century. Men had themselves painted with banyans as they shared the opinion that loose-fitting clothes enhanced the faculties of the mind. Most portraits from that time show men depicted wearing brightly colored banyans. Women improved on the idea of banyans even further and began to wear fitted banyans in luxurious fabrics with exquisite decorations.
Since the 18th century, as more and more people began to wear banyans, they started experimented with different fabrics. In the end robes were made into a thicker, warmer variation and this made it more versatile. With this new versatility, we also began using bathrobes as drying instruments after baths. As time progressed, cotton was one of the primary options for these thicker alternatives. Due to the cotton’s soft and comfortable nature, these new bathrobes were mostly used as after-bath drying garments and leisurewear around the house. Cotton bathrobes present both men and women with a more distinguished and comfortable option for their bathroom needs.