Bonnet’s Banyan Bounty: Our Flag Means Death and Those Robes
Bonnet’s Banyan Bounty: Our Flag Means Death and Those Robes

Bonnet’s Banyan Bounty: Our Flag Means Death and Those Robes

1 – Ahoy! #threadtalk is sea bound–or at least a cozy room below–exploring the phenomenon of OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH & its revival of mens night-gowns, or banyans.🫖

This pinnacle of masculinity has a rich, wide, global history, full of intrigue. Away to Bonnet's banyans! #ofmd

Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby as Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet. Waititi is wearing a leather getup, while Bonnet has a night gown on, in deep red, and frilly cuffs. They are sharing a lovely cup of tea. © HBO Max

2 – There is some disagreement about when exactly the banyan became a Western gentleman's fashion staple. We know influences from Japan & India coalesced in the late 17thC.

Between colonization & an obsession with "chinoiserie", by 1730, it was a fad. Matthew Prior (below) 1718.

Matthew Prior, poet and ambassador to France, painted in a red satin banyan at 3/4. He has a feather in one hand, and is turned slightly. He wears a velvet black hat and a neck scarf. From the National Portrait Gallery.

3 – The word banyan (or banjan, or banian) has an interesting etymology, coming to English (it is posited) from the Tamil word vanigan, meaning trader or merchant.

In many parts of South Asia, the word banyan still refers to an undershirt.

Isaac Newton, here, early 1710s.

Sir Isaac Newton in a coppery silk banyan with clearly Indian-influenced trimming around the collar and cuffs (methinks I might spy some paisley). He looks a bit dour, and is looking askance at the viewer, pointing one finger forward.

4 – What was the point of a banyan? It was a leisure garment, not for sleeping, but for doing more quiet activities before dressing for the day.

Due to the booming global trade (imperialism), gentlemen sought to display the most exotic $$$ designs. Below: 1710, the Netherlands.

A lovely banyan of chintz cotton, of a burnt orange hue, with blue and deep red floral patterns, common of chintz at the time. It has no collar, and a very straightforward cut, as well as relatively short, 3/4 sleeves. From Mode Muz Netherlands.

5 – Bonnet's banyans make sense, even if a little early for the true banyan craze. A man of his means would know the value of peacocking around in finery. It was a statement of class.

In fact, it wasn't uncommon for nobles to be gifted in fabrics, like chintz. 👇 18th c below

Another chintz banyan, this time on an ivory background. This one is more in the Indian style, with pockets and trim in a smaller floral motif, while the rest is large, blue and red florals. From Mode Muze Netherlands.

6 – It's chintz that brings us to a very interesting parallel.

The East India Company was growing immensely during this time, heinous & greedy, their ships brimming w/expensive stuff. Not just fabric, but tea, opium, & gold & silver bullion.

Cue the pirates! 🏴‍☠️🦜

An engraving from 1668 of pirates attacking Puerto de Principe in Cuba. There are two sides with long pollards and clouds of explosives.

7 – Madagascar was a popular pirate hub, hosting near 1,000 pirates. And the colonies took note, with places like New York & Philadelphia trading with them to avoid imperial involvement and, uh, legal stuff.

Thus began a back & forth of Indian goods as well as enslaved Africans.

William Kidd, Captain Kidd, dressed like a gentleman of his day. This bust up portrait portrays him in a white powdered wig, high neck scarf in white, and deep black jacket.

8 – In August of 1707, a pirate named John Halsey, captured two English ships with £50K of goods & $$. Defoe wrote of the pirate:

He was "…brave in Person, courteous to all his Prisoners, lived beloved, & died regretted by his own People."

(Methinks Defoe is wearing a banyan)

Daniel Defoe, chronicler, writer, and immense wig-wearer. He is wearing the most popular French-inspired wig, and a rather sumptuous grey banyan, along with a high scarf and copper vest. He looks imperious.

9 – Chintz, too, was frequently smuggled, as it was both desirable & shocking to European sensibilities (best combo!).

It was banned & women were attacked for wearing it. Not just b/c of the "pagan" designs but b/c it was a threat to local fabric industries. 👇early 18th C

From the Met: Tailored from Indian chintz, the painted pattern of pine trees and prunus blossoms on a red ground consciously imitates the type of pattern that would be found on a Japanese kimono. Unlike most garments tailored from chintz to European requirements, which are cut from lengths of repeat-patterned cottons, this fabric was painted onto cloth shaped expressly to be made into a banyan. The floral borders on the sleeves and front opening are integral to the fabric, not stitched on later. In the late seventeenth century the wearing of a man’s Oriental-style silk morning gown became de rigueur in Europe. The great demand for gowns spurred the commission of painted cotton versions, such as this example, from India’s Coromandel Coast.

10 – But it's not just India that influenced the banyan craze. Even earlier, in Denmark, the 'japonse rokken' became a hit in the 1680s–made of silk *and* chintz. Thousands were made and commissioned by the Dutch East India Company, like this one from the late 17th C, in silk.

A "japonse rokken" from Denmark in pale green floral silk. It looks much more like a kimono, with wide sleeves and a boxier shape. The collar is also semi-quilted, and thicker. From Rijksmuseum.

11 – Here, construction is important. Susan North breaks down the changes between a 16c nightgown, 17th C kosode, a 1700 Indian nightgown, and a 1720 night-gown. You can see how there is no arm seam by the time we get to the end (D).

12 – And behold! Here is Stede Bonnet, flowing sleeves and a distinct lack of a shoulder seam. That yellow damask is absolutely spot on, too, as it is reminiscent of Spitalfields silk as well as many imports of the time period.

© HBO Max. Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet in a yellow banyan, holding a green book. He is holding out his other hand, and making an eyebrows-up expression. There are dangerous candles lit behind him, and everything is generally too flammable.

13 – In fact, behold this historical doppelgänger!

The description says it all: English. ca. 1700-1720. Gold silk damask (Chinese; ca. 1690-1720); lining: red brocaded silk (Persian; ca. 1700-1720); collar and cuffs: red silk damask (English; ca. 1700-1720); wool padding.

Essentially the same gown from the picture, but its historical analogue. The construction is almost identical, and the yellow damask is enhanced by the interior red satin. © Cora Ginsberg LLC

14 – Banyans were absolutely tools of the aristocracy, and a nod to imperialist & colonial tendencies.

But it's also a moment in time where Western masculine fashion really embraces luxurious patterns & fabrics in a remarkable way. Stede totally got that. 👇18th C gentleman.

A man from the 18th century draped in chintz and a blue backed banyan with matching, undone waistcoat. He is at 3/4 length, pointing his finger, and has a placid look on his face amidst all those florals. The interior of the banyan is a salmon satin, and he has lace cuffs. Previously identified as Jacques Germain Soufflot, but not him.

15 – I mean, banyans remained popular really up until WWI. Even through Beau Brummell, Regency men still donned elaborate night-gowns at home.

Seem familiar? Check out this video of the 1995 Pride & Prejudice. What's our Mr. Darcy wearing at :40?

16 – I could go on, & it's a very deep, complex topic, but for now, I'd just like to admire some remarkable banyans. 😲

This one sold for $50K in 2009 at Christies, and is a repurposed Dragon Robe. Appropriation, much? The matching waistcoat is another level. ca. 18th C.

From Christies: A FINE AND RARE GENTLEMAN'S BANYAN AND WAISTCOAT, MADE UP FROM A DRAGON ROBE
18TH CENTURY
The deep blue silk woven with large gilt dragon; together with a matching long-sleeved waistcoat

17 – Does this say Bonnet all over it? I daresay it does. One of my favorites, and featured in my chintz thread talk, from the V&A. I think what brings this over the top for me is the interior fabric. I am such a sucker for red chintz, too. 1750-75, Netherlands.

I mean, come ON.

Man's floor-length and long-sleeved chintz night gown, loose cut, and lined with printed cotton. Red ground Indian floral chintz and lined with a block printed in red on a cream ground in a repeated stylised leaf pattern. T-shaped construction inspired by the Japanese kimono. The back is made from a single width of cotton although it is not cut selvedge to selvedge. Both fronts and parts of the sleeves are continued from the back without shoulder seams. The under arm seams are continuous with the side seams. Additional width and shaping to the skirt of the garment is achieved by the insertion of two pairs of gussets in each side seam below pocket level and extending to the hem. The vertical pocket holes and bags of linen with pointed flaps are set into the side seam well below the cuffs of the sleeves. The lining is cut on the same principle to match the outer chintz, with a layer of wadding between them.

18 – This was made in England 1720/50, but the silk dates from China, 1650-1700. Distinct Chinese influence.

But this SILK makes me HYPERVENTILATE. That lustre, after all this time? Just, how? It's clearly imbued with actual magic. I cannot even with the color. Sky blue?

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The night gown is made up using a blue silk damask with a large repeating design of a Chinese incense burner among acanthus-like foliage. It is lined with blue silk taffeta. It is of simple T-shape construction with no fastenings. There are no shoulder seams, so the design of the silk is in the correct orientation at the back, but appears upside down as it comes over the shoulders and down the front.

The loom width of the damask is 71 cm (28 inches). This width is consistent with it having been woven on a Chinese rather than European loom, as the design suggests.

19 – Here's an unusual one, made of Spitalfields silk. The pink lining is just charming, huh? Made of that T-shaped design we talked about, ca. 1760s. It also looks like the 1960s. Amazing how stuff just comes back around again, eh?

I would 100% spill my tea on this, though.

A man's night gown made of white silk brocaded with coloured silks in a floral design, lined and faced with pink silk taffeta. The nightgown is T-shaped, with shoulder seams, the fronts and back cut and shaped under the arms, with 2-piece sleeves and small triangular side gores. © V&A

20 – Into the Romantic period, we go with my personal favorite of ALL TIME because it's TOILE DE NANTES. I mean, this is like, the most extra of extra. The fabric was usually reserved for furniture. But I love the shaping on this, and the dizzying pastoral. 11/10, Stede would.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This banyan is a rare example of a printed Toile de Nantes, intended to be furnishing fabric, but here made up as a very masculine garment, cut to conform to the height of male fashion. The toile - called ‘toile a personnages’ - presents five different scenes: a soldier surprising and embracing a girl; Les Français en Garnison, the French army having fun in a bucolic setting; Le Depart de la Garnison, the moment right before the departure of the army; a small scene with some soldiers on their horses; a soldier saying goodbye to a crying girl. Les Français en Garnison is signed by Jamet sculpt. Very little is known of him: only that there are five toiles of his design known to have survived.

21 – Speaking of extra, we'll round out our V&A examples with this sumptuous siren of a night gown. Double-breasted, jacquard, and with a yellow quilted lining. Hello, nurse! It's in the Frock Great Coat style, mirroring outdoor coats of the period. From 1850-70, England.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Full-length double breasted gown made of jacquard woven silk with shot effect background in dark blue with an all over floral design in maroon of trailing stems and cup shaped flowers.



Quilted throughout and lined with Khaki coloured twilled silk. The quilting and lining continue to form the turned down collar. There are two flapped pockets at the waist each with a smaller buttoned flap underneath of blue face cloth face cloth that fasten with one button. The sleeves are quite full and taper to the cuff. The body of the gown is cut with a centre back and two side seams and a waist seam. Fitted to the waist and buttoned by six pairs of covered buttons. The skirt is full with deep pleats at the centre back finished at the waist seam by a pair of buttons. The gown is made in a style known as the Frock Great Coat, because of its resemblance to that garment.

22 – We haven't had enough plaid, so let's welcome this entry from Colonial Williamsburg. Dates from the late 18th/early 19th century, and I think it's rather darling. I like the collar on this one, as well as the contrasting cuffs. Definitely one for Buttons on the show.

From the entry: Man's loose T-shaped gown of hard-surface worsted wool and silk, woven in plaid or tartan pattern in colors of red, yellow, grey-blue (crossing red to appear purple), cream, and black, lined with deep green heavyweight silk twill. The garment is cut with a standing collar created by rectangular back insert, a full front opening without fasteners, straight sleeves, and full skirts cut in one with the upper body, the side seams angling out from underarms to hem. The lining has strie patterning caused by a change of color in the weft. There is a slight variation in color on one of the cuffs. Photographed with reproduction shirt and antique white linen cap.

23 – Another saffron stunner, but this time with more tailoring befitting the era: this one is from 1780. It's Chinese Chippendale-inspired, and one heck of a statement. They were also called "Indian nightgowns" and by this period, they were sometimes worn outside.

According to Town and Country Magazine in 1785: "Banyans are worn in every part of the town from Wapping to Westminster, and if a sword is occasionally put on it sticks out of the middle of the slit behind. This however is the fashion, the ton, and what can a man do? He must wear a banyan."

24 – This is Ed's banyan. No I will not be taking questions. It's blue like the sea, like the kraken's eye, like the ink of an octopus…

Seriously, where's the fan?

I'd tackle anyone in this. Dates from 1760-1780, of exported Chinese silk. Quilted!

This jacket is tailored like an outdoor jacket, with the double breast, and buttons along one side. Almost military style. The cuffs are very long, and the drape goes all the way to the floor.

25 – I love how FLOWY this one is! More chintz, but you can see it paired with the waistcoat in a lovely way. It's cotton plain weave, but it looks so fancy! That was the thing about cotton prints that just made folks obsessed. From 1750, made in India for Western market.

A billowy banyan in white-backed chintz, with floral patterns. It has voluminous sleeves, and goes all the way down to the floor. The mannequin is wearing a yellow waistcoat and matching pants, as well as a periwig. He looks distinguished.

26 – Of course, by the time we get to the late Victorian period, we've gone full smoking jacket. But this cousin deserves a little attention.

I can't get OVER the design on this. It's a patchwork magic jacket. Has to be owned by a Fae prince. Right? Silk, velvet, cotton. 1835.

Knee length coat with flaring skirt and slit at back. Centre front opening, fastened with single button at the waist and decorative buttons at breast. Wide olive green turn back collar and lapels. Long straight sleeves with deep velvet turn back cuffs. The fabric is made from small handsewn patchwork blocks of multicoloured plain & brocaded silks and silk velvets. Each patchwork block is made from triangles joined into a larger square block forming repeating diamond shapes. The smallest square block is 4cm x 4cm formed from two triangles. Lined with green silk lining, interlined with padded wool felting. Maas Museum.

27 – And because we didn't have enough green yet, this one from LACMA. I love the whole matching ensemble, again, and the patterning on the edges. Silk, 1720s, France. It's very French. Like, let's just make this even fancier, eh? So, Frenchie?

An eldritch magic coat of a floral silk pattern, with busier patterns on the edges. Long, quite voluminous, and paired with a red velvet hat.

28 – And very lastly, this incredible *pink* delight. I think Stede would love this to bits, even if it was well past his lifespan. Dating from the mid-18th C, it's pink ribbed silk with brocaded design in silver frise thread. From FITNYC, of course. Just dandy in every way.

From the description: man's long banyan with attached waistcoat fronts in pink ribbed silk with brocaded design of flowers in ivory cannele highlighted with silver metallic strip, and large scale curving vines or peacock feathers in silver strip frise thread: straight front, double breasted with ten silver metallic thread buttons and buttonholes on both front panels, narrow band collar with button, vertical front scalloped flapped pockets with four buttons and buttonhole - two working, curved sleeve with wide cuff, form fitting back with flared skirts, shallow inverted pleats at side seams and CB, pocket slit at side seams; single-breasted waistcoat with 11 buttons and buttonholes at CF, flapped pockets at hip with three buttonholes two working with buttons

29 – I want to highlight a few sources before I dig down to the long list. First, this wonderful piece by Susan North, which goes into incredible detail regarding the influences behind banyans. If you want more info, this is where to go.

https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/pdfplus/10.3366/cost.2020.0142

30 – From the 18th Century notebook, this fabulous resource of SO MANY BANYANS, lovingly catalogued and annotated for your viewing pleasure.

http://www.larsdatter.com/18c/banyans.html

31 – This super cool article about piracy and the East India Company that almost delayed me from everything today, because it had so much nifty stuff in it.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/24583021?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A2f8371dec8187289fe5e447c8b545ae8&seq=5

32 – Now the rest of the sources!

https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/when-and-why-british-first-came-to-india-1591166-2019-08-24
https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/when-and-why-british-first-landed-on-indian-territory-1504771870-1
https://www.jstor.org/stable/24583021?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A2f8371dec8187289fe5e447c8b545ae8&seq=1
https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200420-the-cutesy-fabric-that-was-banned
https://earlyamericanists.com/2018/09/13/in-touch-with-the-dutch-or-fashioning-colonial-new-yorks-merchant-elite/
https://www.geriwalton.com/banyans-garments-that-18th-century-gentlemen-loved/
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/87231
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banyan_(clothing)
https://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2010/06/gentlemen-at-leisure-banyans.html

33 – More sources! https://twitter.com/softbred/status/1507716215644778500
https://variety.com/2022/artisans/news/our-flag-means-death-production-design-ra-vincent-1235254416/

https://screenrant.com/our-flag-means-death-best-pirate-outfits-costumes/

34 – Thanks for reading tonight, and thanks to my patrons for helping vote on this month's topic. You can vote, too! My patreon is http://patreon.com/nataniabooks — and I post extra #threadtalk exclusive content there after every thread! (Also have a tip jar.)

35 – I, personally, would love to see more banyans in the future.

Would pay to see Jim and Oluwande so accoutered. Just saying, show runners. I think it's time that Stede shares his spoils a bit more.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on May 16, 2022.

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