Dressing gowns: The ‘Sweat Pants’ of Fine Gentlemen

BathrobeWhenever a leading actor wears a dressing gown in a movie, one thing is certain: In real life, the following scene would certainly take place without an audience. Chilly Gonzales’ trademark is a dressing gown; he even wears it when sharing the stage with a huge and honorable orchestra. And although it is a costume, much like in a movie, it makes him appear undisguised and approachable.

When watching a film, the viewer should always perk up their ears and let their hands silently remain in the popcorn bucket, as soon as they detect a dressing gown on screen. In “Gone With the Wind” protagonist Scarlett O’Hara’s appearance in a scarlet (!) version is legendary. She wears it during one of the key scenes, when she finally discovers her love for Rhett Butler, whereas he decides to free himself from his love for her. Drunken, he carries her to the bed room one last time and it is just in the middle of the giant staircase that a scene cut terminates voyeurism. All in all, Scarlett occurs in 7 different dressing gowns, mostly to emphasize the intimacy of the moment and her vulnerability. In “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, the leading role, a flamboyant radio star who is forced to spend time with his family in the provinces, drapes himself in delicate and extravagant dressing gowns almost without exception. He is hurt (an injury on his leg) and violable at the same time.

Closer to robe-wearer Chilly Gonzales – at least visually and profession-wise – is the composer Alexander Hollenius in “Deception”, a drama dating back to 1946 and starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains. He almost doesn’t take the dressing gown off during the day and loves to play the piano in it.

The dressing gown is his workwear, the tailcoat of the creative person and also the garment of coziness.

One of the great designers of our times seems to have a similar approach. Earlier this year, he allowed Harper’s Bazaar an intimate glimpse into his two mansions in Paris and told the magazine what he usually wears during the night: a poplin night dress tailor-made after the example of a 17th century painting. He also admitted that he doesn’t take it off until around lunch time. In-between, the delicate garment becomes a painting apron when he sketches.

Whoever worked in a creative field or from “home office” probably acquired similar habits. Actually, this is the point where the question why Chilly Gonzales wears a dressing gown becomes almost self-explaining. The dressing gown (or like in Lagerfeld’s case the tailor-made nightgown) is the sweat pants of the fine gentleman. It makes the audience believe, it is watching his performance from Gonzales’ sofa in his living room, as if there was no difference between private and public play. The robe alone creates an atmosphere of intimacy. At the same time, the robe suggests that Chilly Gonzales does not take himself too seriously – the audience doesn’t either. And once more his mission of unifying “high” and “low” culture, democratizing music, becomes visible.

In German, the words for “dressing gown” and “bathrobe” are often wrongly used like synonyms. Of course, this post is not about the unspeakable terrycloth-thing one wraps around the body after stepping off the shower or while standing at the pool edge, but about the fine home clothes of the stylistically confident man, also known as “house coat”. Once upon a time, when every single man possessed a dressing gown. At least one. More likely even more, and the design and garments weren’t chosen by accident or mother-in-law, but the result of long consideration. As dress codes were much stricter in former days, the house coat also served to cover up a not completely perfect appearance. That’s why men didn’t only wear it after getting up or before going to bed, but also over pants and shirt during the day. It is also not by accident that “Herr von Eden” tailored Chilly Gonzales’ monogrammed dressing gown (apart from friendship and appreciation on both sides). Bent Angelo Jensen’s fashion label is known and loved for robes and garments that interweave the most sublime of fashion-wise belles époques without making its wearer look like someone in a vintage carnival costume. The clothes are nostalgic, when it comes to the material and patterns, yet with a pinch of punk added by some eye-catching details. Herr von Eden’s pieces would deserve a new definition of the term classical modernism. So it’s only logical that such a noble designer is responsible for Chilly Gonzales’ traditional dressing gown. The black, slightly sheening robe with its purple and silver details and the embroidered initials is perfumed with a hint of dandy – without the overpowering Hefner smell. Lately, everyone can even purchase the original Chilly Gonzales dressing gown. Most likely a good reason to banish the sweat pants to where they belong: the pile of sports clothes or the bin. Maybe the CG dressing gown isn’t the cheapest, but certainly the most winsome alternative.

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