Child's silk brocade banyan lined with indigo-dyed cotton plaid. 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 Hindu trader; by the 1720s, the term had changed to indicate this piece of leisure clothing worn by men at home. 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 with some sort of front closure such as frogs or tassels. 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). There is also evidence that at least four banyans were made and worn in Deerfield between 1773 and 1779, including one for a child. The day book of John Birge (b.1727), a hatter, dyer and shopkeeper who moved to Deerfield from Northampton, in the collection of PVMA records: "Oct. 4, 1776 - Eben[eze]r Wells - to my wife [Esther Pierce Birge (1737-1803)] making and putting in a pare of Sleeves into Banyang for your Son Samuel 00-00-8 [eight shillings]." Samuel Wells (1772-1816) was the son of Ebenezer Wells (1730-1783) of Deerfield; Mrs. Birge also made two banyans for Ebenezer Wells in 1777 and 1779. Children's clothing was frequently recycled from an adult garment, and very few examples of early banyans for children survive. This diminutive banyan or dressing gown was probably made from dress silk ca 1710 in a "bizarre" pattern, perhaps updated some 30 years later into this current garment. The banyan is cut with turned-back cuffs and widely cut across the chest; the blue plaid cotton lining may have been imported from the East India.
Link to share this object record: