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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst


Culture:Chinese and English or American
Title:nightgown; banyan; dressing gown
Date Made:ca. 1800
Materials:textile: yellow damask weave silk; gray-brown twill weave silk
Place Made:China and United Kingdom; England or United States
Measurements:overall: center back: 66; selvedge width: 29 in.; 167.64 x 73.66 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2004.22
Credit Line:John W. and Christiana G.P. Batdorf Fund

Man's vibrant yellow Chinese silk damask weave nightgown (dressing gown or banyan) in a large flower and leaf pattern fashion fabric, lined with a twill-woven, shot olive silk half lining, which was assembled in England or America. Made since the 16th century, banyans or men's dressing gowns functioned as loose robes worn by gentlemen in the privacy of their homes. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "banyan" as a 16th-century Arabic word for a Hindoo trader; by the 1720s, the term had changed to indicate this piece of leisure clothing. American gentlemen adopted the fashion of wearing banyans as evidenced by the 1767 portrait of Boston merchant Nicholas Boylston (1716-1771) by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). More common than painted silks, Chinese damasks were exported in large quantities to the American market for furnishing and dress fabrics. In 1735, Godfrey Malbone of Newport, Rhode Island, had a trunk of East India goods shipped to him from London that included four pieces of black china taffeties, eight coloured ditto, two lutestrings, and twelve damasks, each one 18 yards in length. Blue and buff-color Chinese damasks appear to have been the colors preferred by colonial Americans, such as the buff-colored piece of silk damask dress from Lunenburg, Massachusetts, in the collection of Historic New England (1926.910). Based on a man's shirt pattern, the square cut banyan has low-set armscyes with wrist bands finished off with a ruffle of self-fabric, and a big gusset is placed under each arm; a high collar, typical of late 18th century men's shirts, accommodating a wrapped linen stock; and wooden mold, self-covered buttons at the wrists and neck. The body of the garment is constructed with French seams, except for the exp[osed selvage edges seen at the center back seam. The vertical repeat of the damask is 17". The silk's selvage width is at least 28 1/4". That fact, combined with the general shape of the design and the light, soft hand or feel, suggest a Chinese manufacture. However, there are no temple holes are visible in the selvage. The selvage edge is off-white in color with two red stripes and periodic temple holes. The silk's patterned damask uses just over two pattern repeats horizontally between the selvages. Damasks were one of the most popular patterned silks in the 18th century. They were nearly reversible (plain weave design, satin weave ground on the right side), and made alterations to exiting garments easier. A similarly-constructed banyan or dressing gown is in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society.

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