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Nicholas Boylston in a brilliant green banyan and a cap, painted by John Singleton Copley, 1767.
Sir Isaac Newton in old age wearing a banyan, painted by James Thornhill, 1709-12. Note T-shaped cut without a shoulder seam.

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 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. It was usually paired with a soft, turban-like cap worn in place of the formal periwig.


Wearing the banyan

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.[1]

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

See also



  • 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.

External links



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