Relaxing at Home in Early Kent
The Front Hall
In the circa 1751 entryway, we encounter three Colonial era banyans mounted on mannequins. The 1987 Fall Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum describes the banyan as being one of the most popular forms of men’s dress in the 18th century, a robe-like informal costume that tended to be more loose and flowing than other fashionable clothes of the period. These examples are on loan from Kent resident Jeffrey Morgan, and while not of Kent origin, typify what some of Kent’s most prosperous citizens might have worn at home from the late 1700s through the nineteenth century.
Today many of us get dressed just once – in the morning, but this is a rather recent development in the history of fashion. Throughout much of modern history, there were formal rules about dressing, and it was not uncommon to change clothes several times during the course of the day depending on one’s activities.
Working class families minimally had an everyday working costume and something special to wear to church. If one was of a higher class, in the nineteenth century, a woman might start her day in at-home attire (without uncomfortable whalebone stays), wear a different, more physically restricting, outfit to go to town, another dress for tea, and again a change for supper. Men of this class might have worn a banyan, as exhibited here, at home, a suit for business, and then changed to formal wear for dinner (which believe it or not is what we consider “tails” today – worn only for special occasions).
Some of us experience this in a similar way with the clothes we wear around the house after we return home from work. We take off our ties or high heels and put on sneakers and sweatpants. While this shift in attire is not as glamorous as changing into a banyan, it is the same idea: at-home comfort.