As we hunker down for the winter, we’re celebrating a home comfort essential – the dressing gown.

The housecoat has a long history. Kimonos of Japan and Banyans of the province of Gujarat, India, act as a precursor to the dressing gown as we know it today. During the 17th and 18th centuries, they became popular among the wealthy in Europe, introduced by Silk Road traders. Often made from expensive fabrics such as silk and velvet, they were worn over nightshirts and as loungewear in the privacy of one’s home.


Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers on a Train.

This symbol of luxury continued up until the early 20th Century, as movie stars and celebrities donned them on screens and in photographs. They became aspirational, and soon people of all backgrounds were wearing them, especially as they began to be made in more practical materials, such as cotton and wool, worn as a comfortable garment of daily life. The 1930s dressing gowns and housecoats from the archive are examples of this, made from blankets in check and geometric patterns, a style popularised in America.  


These gowns have taken on many forms… T-shaped banyans worn by Indian merchants; close-fitting morning coats in the west in the 19th century; shorter versions were introduced with the popularisation of Turkish tobacco to create smoking coats, worn to protect clothing from the smell of a pipe; house coats worn around the house as chores were carried out; to today’s moniker of ‘dressing gown’, worn between waking up and getting dressed.