MAN’S SILK SATIN DAMASK BANYAN
English, ca. 1760; the Spitalfields silk, ca. 1742–3
In the eighteenth century, affluent gentlemen often maintained an elegant appearance even within the privacy of their homes. In addition to loose, T-shaped garments based on Far Eastern models, semi-fitted gowns, derived from Indian forms and known as banyans, were also popular for undress. Both styles provided a welcome degree of comfort and warmth as well as the opportunity to display one’s elite status through the use of fashionable silks, especially when meeting informally with friends or trades people. In “The Levée” from William Hogarth’s series “A Rake’s Progress” (1733), the artist satirizes the fashionable morning ritual of the newly rich young heir: dressed in a banyan with froggings and a turban-like cap, Tom Rakewell is attended by an assortment of visitors including his affected French dancing-master, his music teacher, a jockey, a poet, a tailor, and a gardener.
High-end dress fabrics such as that seen here were produced in Spitalfields, the center of the English silk-weaving industry. Although large-scale damasks were in vogue from the mid-1730s to the mid-1740s, the impressive 47-inch repeat of this example is particularly long. Foliate garlands connecting giant stylized flowers and curving leaves with lobed edges and filling patterns on thick, sinuous stems form a continuous, exotic-inflected design. While not perfectly matched—which would have been an injudicious use of an expensive silk—similar motifs are balanced on the front and back skirts, upper back and sleeves. The cut and shape of the banyan with its low standing collar, moderately large cuffs and side pleats, and side seams placed towards the back suggest a date of about 1760. There are no signs of alterations from an older garment and, although it is unusual to find a piece made up from a much earlier silk, damasks were perennial favorites throughout most of the century and the cost of these textiles ensured their use even if they were no longer in the height of fashion. The elaborate, matching passementerie froggings are essentially ornamental; a series of green silk cord loops on the inside left front fastened the closure on the right side. In many eighteenth-century portraits depicting men in undress gowns, they are often left open, displaying a rich waistcoat underneath. This banyan is lined throughout the body in green ribbed silk, while the sleeves are lined in both silk and natural linen. There are deep linen pockets at the side seams with shallow scalloped bands and decorative buttons; slits in the seams behind them allow for access to the breeches’ pockets.
In its construction, frogging closure and use of an earlier silk, this banyan is similar to one reputedly worn by Lord Sheffield (1735–1821) in the collection of the Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury. In that example, although the brown damask with large-scale foliage dates to about 1738, the garment was made up between 1765 and 1780. The overblown pattern of this green banyan is also similar to a damask design on paper by Anna Maria Garthwaite dated 1743 in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (T.391-1971), illustrated in Natalie Rothstein’s Silk
Designs of the Eighteenth Century (1990), p. 46.