Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Japanese Kimonos in Colonial New York

"1 blew silk Japon men gowne 02:10:00" - 1685 NYC

If you are a reenactor looking for something different or are a bit baffled by the fact that many types of men's and women's robes are listed under the generic term "dressing gown" or "night gown"  or more appropriately "chamber robe" we can use primary sources to determine what the variety of robes really were. 

One thing to consider, is that the 17th Century bridges the middle ages to modern era, so when thinking on how a person perceived themselves and the world the 1600s really were a blend of the 1500s and the 1700s. The microscope and telescope were newly invented, bayonets were mostly being used by French armies and not widely en vogue instead there were pikes and snaphaunces, and meat became something people had weekly. The Dutch discovered every possible broom and brush for cleaning the home and developed the idea of washing one's clothes each week. The western world discovered coffee, tea, lettuce salad and this thing called a fork from Italy and tiny tea pots of red clay from China. Then they wrote about it in several "Discovering the world" books and published maps of near and far off places, both of which were exceedingly popular because half the population could read. The Discovering the world books always include a description of clothing, not just the jacket or robe, but even what they wore under their clothes... every piece. The Dutch were curious, exacting... and likely got nipped in the nose a few times.  

With people being able to read about these lands and find them on a map, their desire to own goods from these places were the next step. Interestedly, an item like a Japon robe does not reveal much of the body. The emphasis was not if he looked masculine, or if she had a tiny waist, it was about the person. And apparently, clothing that emphasized the person was popular. Some call it a Golden Age; it really was a Sophistication of the curious mind, an escape for one that loved reading about people both next door and in far off lands. 


There are actually four different terms that get grouped under "chamber robe" when using 18th Century references; the Banyan (Bannian), Japon rok (Japonsch rok), the Turk and the Muscavoy. However, in the 17th Century they are identified by the nation they originate from. There is also the Sultan which crops up for men in the 17th Century, then falls to the side, and reappears in feminine form in the 18th Century...but I have yet to have found these in American docs. 

Of the five robes mentioned, the Japon rok, Turk and Muscavoy are worn during both the 17th and 18th Centuries in New York and New Netherland. For those 17thC reenactors preferring a fitted garment like the Banyan, consider a Muscavoy coat which is a similar fit and length but with parallel horizontal frogging down the front. You probably have seen them in paintings. Or a Turk which has fitted sleeves and wrap front. The Sultan has wide sleeves like the Japon. We can circle back to these other robes. 

In dictionaries: 

1766 - A Large Dictionary English and Dutch: in two parts - "“Ro’k, a coat, gown. (next) een Japonsche-rok, a chamber-gown." 

 1766 —-Volkomen woordenboek der englelsche en nederduitsche taalen, by William Sewel, Egbert Buys, Caspar Philips - "A morning gown, Een nagt rok, japon."

1707 - A Large Dictionary English and Dutch,: In Two Parts by the Englishman Willem Sewel, “JAPON, Japonse rok, a Chamber gown."

In Early Documents: 

1690 - Europische Mercurius behelzende al het voornaamste 't geen in ..., Volume 1
By E.V. V. "...that was the end of justice. The Elector went beforehand, with the principal Ladies, at one end of the Hall, where after his Seal, regal thoroughness, with a long Japanese dress, was done..."

1669 - "Gedenkwaerdige Gesantschappen Der Oost-Indische Maatschappy in 't Vereenigde ..." By Arnoldus Montanus 

Were there other items from Japan?

Yes. Japanese stilyards, a type of scale, are common in most any inventory where someone sold groceries, sugar, textiles,... anything. Sometimes, a person (men and women) didn't sell anything and there are large and small stilyards in the same inventory. The small ones can be carried in a bag they are so small and good for purchasing small personal size amounts of tea or sugar. There is a Japanese cutlas. There are also Japanese quilts, compared to ones from India. Plus, lacquered chests small and large. Plus, the type of pant worn with the Japon were also imported. Much of this is due to Wina van Hoorn who imported goods from the far east, but also from India. 

Side note: 

The term Ban-nian/Ba-nian is the original word and used in both the 17th and 18th Century. Bannian and Banian continue to be used in the 18th Century but the spelling "Banyan" is introduce in 1728. I am guessing that the spelling used for "Banyan" may be an English colloquialism. The original using the /a/ as in / ball/, instead of the American short /a/ sound. 

In 1641 the first Japanese kosode are shipped to Amsterdam: 

In 1641, The supreme leader of Japan was the Shogun who gifted 53 of these silk robes - 23 were black - to seal the trade deal with the Directors of the Dutch East Indies Company. These robes are not really kimonos. The kimono starts off as the kosode in the 17th Century, and developed from here. [koe-soe-day]  Wiki Commons Kosode Image. For the record, Japanese use the European pronunciation of vowels. 

1675, Netherlands, Anna Elisabeth van reede. 

The Kosode in the Netherlands:

The Dutch were not irreverent to the importance of the gift that they would use it as a dressing gown but instead they were worn to work which is why during the 17th Century they are often painting while the sitter is at a desk in front of a book. They were also called a "night gown" not to be confused with a dressing gown. 

In the below two images the similarities of shaping can be seen. Both happen to be printed in 1669. 

1669 - Portrait of Amsterdam predikant Conradus Hoppe, by Jan Veenhuysen

1669 Likely a Japon but could also be a "Sultan", of Daniel Bernard from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is on loan at the Amsterdam Museum. 

Due to the early date of the image above, it is likely an original "Japon Rok" (Rok = Dress) which would be worn over a skimpy double or waistcoat instead of a jacket or coat. When I did a year long study aboard in Japan, my professor told the class that the word "Japon" and "Japan" is a Dutch invention. It is possible that the Dutch heard Ji-pon or Ja-pon when the Japanese introduced themselves as "Ni-hon-jin" and referred to their nation as "Ni-pon". And truethfully to western ears, /ja/ in Japanese [Nihongo] really does sound similar to /ji/ in the same away that /p/ and /b/ or /m/ and /n/ can be mistaken in English. 

Were there Japon Robes in America? 

There are defiantly a number of them as they are called such by name, Japon rok or Japon robe plus the paintings ! There is another robe, that we can tell is a Japon because it was "padded" as described in Dutch: 1693, Albany, a night "rok" with padding. We can include this because the inventory was written in Dutch with the exact same terms being used in the Netherlands for the same time period. A Night dress in the Netherlands is a robe worn over clothes in place of a coat or jacket. This particular robe is listed with the petticoats. 

A 1685 NYC probate inventory has, "1 Japon Coate lining with 'redd' say 01:15:00". This robe was possibly a Dutch or domestically (American) made Japon coat as say was not a textile of Japan. However, the "1 blew silk Japon men gowne 02:10:00" and the "1 ditto 'redd' 02:10:00 that were for sale in an East Indies store in 1685 Manhattan are highly likely imported Japanese kosode. This same store also lists a number of flowered "India jackets" so we can see that this is not confusion on the part of the author's, who happened to be the owner of the shop. In 1686, the Mayor of Albany owned 2 Japon robes. 

At one to two pounds it was not a robe within "every" person's means, but it is comparable to other clothing. As can be seen, one silk Japon is worth about one man's suit or a woman's scarlet petticoat and Samare from a squarely middle class couple's wardrobe. Alternatively, the domestically made one is the same cost as a Jacket. A colonist could have two sets of waistcoat and bottoms and wear a jacket with one and a Japon with the other. 

1685: 1 black “gross” “greaine” “suite” [men's] 02:17:00, 1 "Indea" "petticoats" with body of "redd" bay 00:17:00, 1 ditto [woman's Indea petticoat] Scarlett 01:15:00, 1 flowered calico petty coats with "redd" lining 00:16:00, 1 colored "stuff" Samare [woman's pleated back coat] 01:10:00.

Japon robes during the 1640s - 1660s were owned by mega merchants or directors of the Dutch East Indies company. By the 1670s, enough had been imported that not only magistrates, but also clerks, scientist and even artists and musicians were wearing them. Women merchants and shopkeepers also sported Japon robes. It was a very continental thing to do, and signaled to everyone that you had a love for exotic cultures and goods. 


There are a few of them, most of which show women wearing them. The upper portrait: This is one of the most beautiful, the sitter is unknown though from New York and the painting is attributed to Gerrit Duyckinck c1660-1710. The lower family painting: Below is a painting of the Emmanuel de Witte, Family Portrait, Munich 1677 with a daughter in similar Japon. It is likely that our unknown sitter is painted about 1690 due to the gown, fan, hair and also the front lacing stay. (There are a couple early inventories that mention having a painting of their daughter, that with further research it may be possible to narrow who this person is down to 1 or two choices.) Because there are no stays for children recorded in 17th Century inventories except out on Long Island, I would say she is over 14 years old and likely closer to her late teens. Her clothing shows her sophistication as she choose a garment from Japan rather than other styles, her stays were attractive so instead of a stomacher she showed the lacing. This is common among Central Europeans. Her fan, again, is a fashion statement, on trend, and nothing more. The flower however, may have some significance beyond giving her something to hold, but it is important not to read too deep. Her hair being down is also common in New York for woman, and should not be read into. Visitors comment on the simple hair styles of New Yorkers, and their "spritely" attitudes. 

The below image is of Deborah Glen, attributed to the Gansevoort Limner, and is in the Colonial Williamsville collection. Note that the pattern on the sleeve is perpendicular to the pattern on the dress when the arm is at rest. There is a hard date to the painting of 1739 in or near Albany, NY. It is difficult to know if the center front of the robe is sewn shut or is just overlapped. However, an English visitor remarks on another Albany family as wearing the same outfit, a wrapping style robe flowered over a petticoat. They also mention the people of up-state NY having their hair not up... but down and simply in a tie like the painting. The visitor mentions this was daily attire for women whether a teacher or student, as much as it was to play shuttlecock or chest. Apparently, normal pastimes for NY women. 

What is interesting is that Glen choose a traditional robe to be painted in with contrasting lining that had been in fashion in up-state New York since the late 17th Century and originated in the Netherlands. Her pierced ears are another traditional refinement that has been fashionable since the 17th Century in New York. I think there is a tendency to mistake her garment as being "rich" or of a "wealthy" class.. but by 1700 this style of robe was typical of educated people as much as it was of artists, musicians and shopkeepers. I think it speaks to both cultural tradition and worldly sophistication. What is fashion forward is her use of a Central European stay, which you glimpse where the lacing crisscrosses in the center front. This was on trend in culturally Germanic regions, and New York, and the shortening of the sleeves which started in the 1720s. It was common for Dutchmen to present their betrothed with a ring of engagement, usually with a small stone in it. It seems Glen has one as this painting occurs right before her wedding. There are a couple early reference to roses and wreaths, with the first from a book looking at the errors of people. 

This gown, along with the Turkish robe will dominate fashions in New York from about 1700-1740s and possibly through the F&I war (1763). 

1668 - "...And also tolerable, if we (wishing that our words are kept closed under the Rose), there are also bad people in company and at the beer bank; In the old habit of wearing rose wreaths in guest rooms, and in this manner, we do not speak of the custom (who is the High-German), who paint a rose in the button [?] on the table. But it would be more significant if it were as original as Lemnius and other written books, that the Rose was the Flower of Venus, which Cupid Harpocrates, the God of silent temperament, had tolerated;...
" - "Pseudo-doxia epidemica, dat is: Beschryvinge van verscheyde algemene dwalingen des volks,..."

The painted flower may reference the idea of a Rose by any other name by William Shakespeare. A 1740 reference to how to paint wreaths of roses or flowers states "... and although every flower has its own name, shape and color, it is not considered, however, in general, that is to say, as under the name can flowers." - Book, "Groot schilderboek, waar in de schilderkonst in al haar deelen grondig werd onderweezen, ..."

If we look at the use of the rose, and the fact that Glen was about to be married, the roses simply represent love.

Mr. Livingston: 

One of the most interesting paintings of an early American is of Robert Livingston (1654-1728), Lord of Livingston Manor who was of Scottish heritage. This is because he was politically on the side of the Governor and is painted with a whig styled in the English fashion and a cravat. However, his whig is brown which was typical color worn by the Dutch and Continental colonist rather than white as preferred by England. This is something that can be seen in paintings but was another observation by visitors. The other blaring issue is he choose the most common color Japon robe used by Dutch Magistrates back in Amsterdam to be painted in. But why? The first Samurai Japon robes were "reddish", brown or black and usually lined in the same color. Though, a more fashionable Japon was with contrasting color lining and had become trending by the time of this painting. It is as if he is giving tribute to both the English governor and the other Dutch and Continental merchants he had to live and work with. 

Merchant: Robert Livingston (1654-1728), Lord of Livingston Manor, New York. The Painting was likely made while he held office 1715 – 1728. - Note how Livingston's hair is brown like the other Dutch paintings but parted at top and the style more structured. And that he points and holds his robe like the Dutch paintings specifically one painted by Caspar Netscher (1639 - 1684) . In most paintings the wearer has to use one hand to hold the Japon closed, however, when painted in genre the Japon is held together with a sash.

Scientist: Portrait of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, Natural Philosopher and Zoologist in Delft, Netherlands, Jan Verkolje (I), 1680 - 1686

Doctor: David , Agneta en hun dochter Catherina Neufville - Michiel van Musscher (1645 - 1705), below is an example of a padded Japon... it should have a quilted feel. 

In the End: 

The Japon robe when appropriated by the French is so popular it will be the first on record as being downgraded to a chamber gown from its standing as a robe for Samurai. It is possible that the French had no idea of its importance having adopted the fashion through the Dutch, though they are aware of the original name, Japon. 

There are about eight paintings of New York woman plus Livingston's with a Japon, plus another six in personal inventories (that do not line up with the paintings unfortunately) and another two in a store for sale. It is a robe that could easily be worn for reenacting from the 1650/60s to at least the end of the French and Indian war 1763. New York will never really leave their interest in Japan on the table, paintings by artist will show women in both kosode and later kimonos for some time to come. 


Französischer Meister:

Johannes Hudde (1628 - 1704), Michiel van Musscher, 1686, This one is flowered and padded:

1710 - La diseuse de bonne aventure | Jean Antoine Watteau (1710), And an extend Italian Japon from 1710-1720 made of Lampus comes with blue cap of same material and Caspar Netscher (d. 1684) - Portret van een man in Japanse mantel. 

2 Paintings attributed to Caspar Netscher (d.1684) - Sold at Auctions

This one below in black is one of the most rare types of kimono, due to its color, also by Caspar Netscher (d. 1684). 

The sense of self in the Netherlands and personal identity was not just identifiable at the elite end of the spectrum, but people throughout the middle class which includes the working class were expressing themselves in new and novel way. They were completely adopted foreign garments and using them in a similar way their were originally intended. So, the next time you see a loose robe with no buttons and someone calls it a "dressing gown"... explain it is worn over a waistcoat and bottoms instead of a coat so one may be comfortable while at work, reading, composing music, painting or simply... as a clerk staying up all night trying to get the accounting finished before the shipment arrives the next day.

The two images below don't belong together but have similar coloring and patterning. 

Upper photo: Caspar Netscher, Dutch, 1639-1684, Portrait of a Gentleman, 1680

Lower photo: Silk, gouddraad, Foto: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1689-1702


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