Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: a Recycler and a Gentleman

Ensemble, ca. 1830, French, silk, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2970a, b

Unlike the probable wearer of last week’s 20s silk number, I’ve had no time for lounging around the country club drinking cocktails (although in my case, it would be mocktails) and watching tennis.    I’ve been nose to the grindstone marking student papers and finishing off the next Scroop Pattern.

But this weekend I hope to have a little relaxing time, so this week’s Rate the Dress is something to relax in – in the most decadent way possible.

Last Week:  a sporty 1920s day dress in spring shades

Some of you loved the light, fresh colours of last week’s dress, and the way the little details played out across the design.  Others were not so convinced, but for a whole host of reasons.  Some loved the collar, but thought everything else was blah.  Others really disliked the collar, but liked the rest.  Some thought it was perfectly nice and charming, but not at all memorable.  And then some of you marked it down simply because you don’t like tennis!

The Total: 7.6 out of 10

It managed to squeak up .1 point higher than the red velvet dress of the week before, so that’s a little improvement at least!

This week: an 1830s banyan and waistcoat of 1740s fabric

I’m slightly obsessed with 18th century textiles that have been recycled into 19th century garments at the moment, so thought an example of the practice would be an interesting Rate the Dress:

This 1830s ensemble comprising a waistcoat and banyan has been re-made from ca. 1740 silk brocade.

Banyans (or dresssing gown, robe de chambre, or the many other names which they were called in fashion articles of the time) were to menswear in the 1830s what tea gowns were to womenswear in the 1890s: elegant, informal, at-home-only attire for showing off your wealth, taste, and knowledge to your closest friends.

They had evolved from the loose, wrapping banyans imported from India and the Middle East during the 17th and 18th century to be the highly structured garment shown here.  Although the skirt is longer, and the fabric bolder, the cutting and sewing techniques of this ensemble closely mirror the patterning and tailoring of fashionable jackets.

This one has a beautifully rolled shawl collar, a double-breasted front fastening, and gathered sleeves on the banyan, with a exaggerated notched collar and matching double-breasted front on the waistcoat.

As informal, high-status garments, banyans were an excuse for men to wear more interesting, dynamic fabrics than the sombre hues that dominated formal day and evening wear in the 1820s and 30s.  Fashion plates and extant garments show a range of fabrics on banyans, from large scale toile de jouys, to imported block prints and silks that acknowledge the banyans roots, to quirky roll printed cottons, and decorative braiding and applique.   The range of colours and prints rivals anything seen in women’s dresses at the time.

Modes Parisiennes 1825

Modes Parisiennes, 1825

Wiener Moden, circa 1841

Wiener Moden, circa 1841

The luxurious nature of banyans, and the skilled workmanship of this one, suggest that the fabric recycled from an 18th century dress not for reasons of practicality and thrift, but rather for its aesthetic appeal.

It’s certainly a striking fabric, with its pomegranates and florals in blue, pink, green and yellow on cream, with lace-like patterning in ivory adding further depth.

What do you think?  Would this banyan and matching waistcoat impress all the wearers guest with his taste and status?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating — feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

As usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment.


  1. Tereza says

    I like everything about this!
    The only reason it is not a 10 is that that fabric should have been made into a woman’s dress I could then dream of wearing 🙂

  2. nofixedstars says

    i love it. i think they should bring them back—they’d make brilliant unisex wear. most men’s attire is dreadfully dull, and a banyan with or sans waistcoat would be ever so much more appealing than the “at home” lounge-wear for men on offer lately…

    rating: 10/10

  3. Kathy Hanyok says

    It looks beautifully made. I especially love the detail on the buttoned waistband. But all I can think is how upset the wife must be that she no longer has a coverlet! 8/10

  4. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    I love love love love everything about it, and I’m so glad that a man got to wear something like this.

    10/10, and if I could, I’d add another 0.5 because it’s so nice to see something like this for the boys when 99.99% of all the fabulous stuff like this isn’t.

  5. Ally says

    Lovely, really lovely. The material is gorgeous, the shape of the banyan is so elegant, and the waistcoat looks very sharp with that buttoning. This makes me want to time-travel back to the 1830s to wear it! I have only minor issues with the shoulders, which look a bit off, and the stiffness of the material, both of which might not be an issue at all if you were wearing it rather than posing it in a museum.

  6. Penny says

    The wife is allowing me to chime in; I would SO make this! And wear the heck out of it. I really like how the two pieces match (though I’ll wager the waistcoat will see more wear in the long run), and love the details in the closure for the banyon as well as the fullness of the skirts. I’m giving it a 9.7, only because I think the skirts are a bit too long for my tastes. Yes, the length is appropriate to the period, but I’ve seen them this long as well as a bit shorter too. I would still SO wear this, though…

  7. Charlotte Mueller says

    I love this and I now want to dive down the Banyan research rabbit hole.

  8. Beth B says

    This is beautiful and functional; what’s not to love?

  9. I love the tailoring of these garments. So sharp, so fitted, they look more formal to my eye than they likely would have been perceived in period.

    Not sure how I feel about the very pastel color scheme and delicate flowers. Frankly, it’s more pastel and delicate than I’d like for myself! On the other hand, the photo showing the garment as it might have looked in wear suggests that it probably looked ravishing in candlelight.

    9.0 out of 10.

  10. Theresa Diaz says

    I adore this! So much that I want to make one for my husband.


  11. Elaine says

    I love the tailoring and the fabric. The fabric in menswear is a little disconcerting to my 21st century sensibilities. But it’s a beautiful and opulent garment. 9.5/10

  12. I love the shape and seaming, and the scale of the floral elements is large enough to avoid “twee,” but I do find the weight of the fabric just a bit too heavy.
    Men should definitely adopt banyans today!

    8.5 of 10

  13. Cirina says

    Yeah, this is perfect. I have always liked 1830’s men jackets and this. so much this.


  14. I adore this! I’m a huge fan of reusing fabric for new projects so on that basis alone I would love it, but the colors and construction are also just amazing!


  15. Oh, I want one! No, actually, two: one in silk for summer wear and one in wool for winter.

    Beautiful fabric, beautifully cut into two beautiful garments (I have a soft spot for waistcoats), and can we just take a moment to appreciate that this cloth was about NINETY YEARS OLD when it was re/made into this? How many fabrics made today will still be looking this good in 2111?


  16. Heather says

    Beautifully cut and tailored in a gorgeous fabric! 10/10

  17. Florence says

    It is gorgeous, for all the reasons named already!

  18. I want this, I don’t know if this fabric is absolutely perfect, but I love the color and the design lines, that closure on the front is [chef’s kiss] perfection, and the matching waistcoat.

    I want it.

  19. kathy in KY says

    It’s gorgeous, but it took me until photo #5 to figure out that this was a man’s outfit (I guess I neglected to read the headline). I am intrigued by what kind of guy would wear this (to our eyes) uber feminine material in public, even if just in his own home. Somehow I envision a rakish bachelor man-about-town rather than a sedate husband. And yet it seems so un-masculine. I know I’m letting 20th century gender norms affect my thinking, but that’s what I’m thinking.

    I agree with Tereza who said using this for a guy was a waste of fabulous material. Nevertheless, 9.5

  20. Penny says

    It’s lovely, although maybe a tad structured and stuffy for lounging comfortably at home. 9/10

  21. Truuske Odde says

    I love this and I could imagine it being worn by either sex today. An early form of upcycling! 10/10

  22. Wilma says

    Having lived in an old home that, originally was heated only with fireplaces, I totally understand wearing a banyan when casually at home. This one looks heavy and warm, and I think the springlike fabric would be toasty whilst sitting in front of the fire reading. Love it! 10/10

  23. Wilma says

    Oops, meant to say the fabric would bring a sense spring into the dark of winter, if worn then.

  24. Emma Louise says

    I love 18th century fabrics and I always find it interesting to see them being reused in later periods. I’m curious about how reuse was seen, sensible? cheap? luxurious? whimsical? fashionable? or a niche fashion? I guess it would have depended on who was wearing the garment and how it had been reused and when.
    As for this particular garment, I really like it. It looks decadent and fun, though I would maybe prefer my informal wear to be less structured.

  25. Susan Robinson says

    I LOVE this and I agree with Wilma about cold houses. If Scroop turned this into a pattern I think a lot of us would be jumping up and down. 10 of 10

  26. Catrijn says

    I have a sudden desire to dress as an 1830s gentleman, so I think that’s a 10.

  27. I’m coming in late, but I love this. Both for the creative re-use, and for the style. I do love banyans. It loses half a point for not matching patterns, but that’s being really niggly and it was probably impossible to do in the circumstances.

    My rating is 9.5

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