Banyan (clothing)

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Ward Nicholas Boylston in a brilliant green banyan and a cap, painted by John Singleton Copley, 1767.
Fitted banyan, 1750–60.

A banyan (through Portuguese banian and Arabic بنيان, banyān, from the Gujarati વાણિયો, vāṇiyo, meaning "merchant") is a garment worn by men in the 18th century influenced by Persian and Asian clothing.

Banyan is also commonly used in present day Indian English and other countries in the Indian Subcontinent to mean "vest" ("undershirt" in American English).

Also called a morning gown, robe de chambre or nightgown, the banyan was a loose, T-shaped or kimono-like cotton, linen, or silk gown worn at home as a sort of dressing gown or informal coat over the shirt and breeches. The typical banyan was cut en chemise, with the sleeves and body cut as one piece. It was usually paired with a soft, turban-like cap worn in place of the formal periwig. An alternative style of banyan was cut like a coat, fitted, with set-in sleeves, and was closed with buttons and buttonholes.[1]

Wearing the banyan[edit]

In the humid climate of Colonial Virginia, gentlemen wore lightweight banyans as informal street wear in summer.

It was fashionable for men of an intellectual or philosophical bent to have their portraits painted while wearing banyans. Benjamin Rush wrote:

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.[2]

Despite the name "nightgown", the banyan was not worn for sleeping.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waugh (1994), p. 89
  2. ^ "Franklin and Friends". Retrieved 2006-03-19. 


  • Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500–1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5
  • Baumgarten, Linda: What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America, Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-09580-5
  • Cunnington, C.Willett and Phillis Emily Cunnington: Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. London: Faber, 1972.
  • Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, Harper & Row, 1965. No ISBN for this edition; ASIN B0006BMNFS
  • Waugh, Norah (1987). The Cut of Men's Clothes, 1600–1900. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-87830-025-2. 
  • A Colonial Gentlemen's Clothing: A Glossary of Terms

External links[edit]