Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Banyans (Part 1)

Shorter Half summarizes a banyan as casual dress for gentlemen. “Think 18th century Hugh Hefner in a smoking jacket, but more acceptable in public. They were worn by men to indicate refinement -- to show that they appreciated the wonders of the orient, had the wealth to afford expensive fabrics, and the leisure to not have to worry about ruining a garment with manual labor."

A banyan was considered “undress” wear, meaning it was worn for informal occasions. It was paired with a cap or turban-type head covering instead of a wig. (If you wore wigs a lot, you tended to keep your head shaved. It just made things easier.) Very generally speaking, banyans ranged from loose, flowing, T-shaped robes early in the century to more fitted, Asian-inspired garments later.

Benjamin Rush observed that:

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, when they are seated in their libraries.

So, without further ado, I present to you the Gentlemen of the Detached Hospital, a.k.a. the Z.Z. Top of Colonial Williamsburg.

Presenting the ZZ Top of the Reenacting World

Everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Michael W. eschews the negligee cap for something cooler with more protection from the sun. That silk brocade is heavy, and hot.

Mike's lovely wife made this banyan for him.

Shorter Half vamps for the camera. This is a hand-block printed cotton from India, and is patterned on  a banyan in the Sharon Ann Burnston book, "Fitting and Proper". More on the construction of this later.

Chris looks refined and relaxed while he coordinates beautifully with the crepe myrtle in bloom behind him. This is also a hand-block printed cotton from India, and uses a French pattern. The cap uses a pattern from Linda Baumgarten's "Costume Close Up". More on this later, as well.


  1. What culture! What panache! The style leaves all others behind!

  2. We are just dead sexy! But it would not have been possible for two of us if not for our outstanding seamstress!