The History of Bathrobes
Bathrobes are wonderful things. While, technically, they’re designed as post-shower, pre-dressing attire, we’d be lying if we said we hadn’t lazed around in them once or twice as we read the paper on a Sunday morning. We’d also be telling a porky if we said we’d never spent a chilly evening rugged up in one on the couch, mug of hot chocolate in one hand and TV remote in the other. What can we say? They’re just so damn comfy.
Many of us on the team met our first bathrobe the first time we stayed at a hotel. We have memories of them hanging enticingly in the wardrobe, right above the white hotel slippers; a perfect outfit for lazy mornings away from our normal lives. Some of us remember enhancing the bathrobe’s sense of luxury and decadence by wearing it as we enjoyed room service or snuck something yummy from the minibar. Others remember liking it so much they contemplated sneaking it into their luggage the morning of check-out (luckily for them - and the hotels they’ve stayed at - they soon discovered they could purchase their own bathrobes for guilt-free year-round use).
While this may have been the beginning of our history with bathrobes, the garments themselves have a past dating back thousands of years. Here’s their story.
The word ‘robe’ is French for dress (don’t worry lads - bathrobes are perfectly acceptable gender neutral attire) and is something which wiggled its way into wider language as a descriptor for a loose, flowing garment with sleeves. There have been many incarnations of the robe, the first of which is thought to have been worn by the ancient Greeks in the 9 th century BC. These robes, called chitons, were brightly coloured and decorated at the hem line to show the wearer’s place of residence.
Ancient Romans were also early adopters of the robe and began wearing them in the 3 rd century BC. They were most often worn underneath the toga at formal occasions and displayed the wearer’s status; longer robes with thicker stripes acting as a sign of higher social standing.
The Japanese were the next to take up the humble robe, thanks to a new straight-line sewing technique developed in the Heian period, around 800 AD. This technique allowed them to create all-in-one garments (as opposed to separate tops and bottoms) which were suitable for every shape and size of body on the market. It – along with the robes – are still in use today, with kimonos remaining the preferred traditional attire for weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies and other special events.
Organised religion was the next large group to adopt the robe for everyday use. In the 12 th and 13th centuries, a particular type of robe, called a cassock, became a symbol of the clergy of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. While members of some faiths still wear it regularly, the cassock is now usually reserved for wear during religious ceremonies.
The use of robes in academia can also be traced back to the 12 th and 13th centuries, thanks to the fact early European universities were founded by the clergy. While academic robes were standard day to day wear during this period, today we only usually see them at graduation ceremonies where, inexplicably, they tend to take on more ridiculous forms the higher the level of qualification.
Not to be outdone by the church and its affiliates, the English court of law also adopted robes, mandating their wear in the Judges’ Rules of 1635. Initially designed to distinguish members of the legal profession from other members of society, the wearing of robes in court is now more tradition than anything else.
The final entry on our history list is the banyan, which burst onto the scene in the 18 th century, laying the foundations for today’s humble bathrobe. Banyans – also called morning gowns or night gowns - were traditionally worn by men and imitated Asian garments like the kimono with their loose shape and silk construction. It became fashionable for intellectuals and philosophers to have their portraits painted while wearing banyans as it was commonly accepted that their loose fit aided the faculties of the mind.
Whether it was this particular benefit that made the garments more popular, we’ll never know, but what is clear is that the world’s love of wearing comfy robes really took off. Their form relaxed a little (it’s hard to imagine the great minds of today posing for photographs in one) and their material diversified, favouring softer, warmer more durable fabrics.
Our bathrobes are an excellent example of this, made of plush cotton terry fabric that’s soft, super absorbent and washes really well, meaning they maintain their shape and feel for many years. They’re also cleverly designed with deep pockets and an integrated hanging loop, perfect for the back of the bathroom door.
When you think about it, all these design features are the culmination of thousands of years of human knowledge and traditions. Pretty cool, right?
So go on, treat yourself to one and bring a touch of history, a dollop of comfort and a sense of luxury into your day to day.
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