Welcome to another edition to the History of Lingerie. At VienneMilano, we love all things related to lingerie – especially thigh high stockings. For us, we genuinely believe that to appreciate the more finer things in life, we must learn about its history. Already, we've uncovered the history of hosiery and women's underwear. Let's explore the story of the robe.
Opulent, romantic, and serene – those are the three words we would use to describe a robe. From King Louis the XIV, Memoirs of a Geisha, to Gucci, robes have transformed throughout history as a statement of power to a statement of fashion. However, what is a robe, and where did it come from? A robe (sometimes known as a gown) is a piece of loose-fitting clothing that has sleeves. Typically, robes are worn over other articles of clothing. While it's not clear who the actual creator is, sources tell us that this is an item that has roots in Eastern and Western civilizations.
Togas is a loose-fitting garment worn on top of other pieces of clothing. As Rome evolved (becoming the Holy Roman Empire), so did the toga. By the 4th and 5th centuries, togas transformed into religious robes worn mainly by Christian monks. Since religion was viewed as the voice of authority, only the noblest and powerful wore togas, which were later transformed into mantles and robes. By the 12th century, kings throughout Europe adopted the practice of wearing robes as a statement of power.
Portrait of King Louis VIX, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, circa 1701
Kimono is a type of robe worn in the Far East. Typically, the robe is T-shaped. Unlike togas, kimonos are loose-fitting. The inspiration behind the kimono and similar type of clothes comes from China. We know this because kimono is also called Gofuko in Japanese, which means "clothing of the Wu" – the ethnic majority of the Chinese. The kimono dates back to the 300 AD in Japan but became stylized in 794AD. Most kimonos were worn to ankle length and used by men and women in Asia for centuries. By 1336, the Kosode kimono (a common form of kimono) evolved from a type of undergarment to a statement piece worn solely with an obi (clothed belt). In 1603, the sleeves began to grow in length for style.
In the 15th century, the Portuguese began trading with East Asia – in particular, the Portuguese brought silk, fabric, and other ornate objects back to Europe. At the time, items brought back from the far east were highly prized. Between the 15th to the 19th centuries, men and women throughout Europe collected items from China and Japan as a symbol of wealth. Clothing – at the time, was no exception.
"La Japonaise", by Claude Monet, circa 1875.
La Japonaise, painting by Claude Monet, circa 1800. In this painting, Claude depicts his wife wearing a Japanese kimono as a form of admiration for the Japanese culture and style.
In 2019, Kim Kardashian received backlash for launching a shapewear collection called "Kimono." While she stated that it referenced to her name, many people believed it to be a faulty connection to the Asian kimono's. After receiving a copious amount of negative publicity, she changed the name to "Skims."
So how did the word kimono become synonymous to the word robe? We'd like to thank the Italian fashion house, Gucci, for the inspiration. In 2003, Gucci introduced a Japanese robe as a form of outerwear. Other designers (i.e., Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.) began to do the same the following year. It used to be that robes (and kimonos) were meant celebrations. Today that is no longer the case thanks to the work of a few influential fashion designers who reinvented the way we address formality, allowing us to bring ornate and exotic robes into everyday life.
Gucci S/S 2003, by Mario Testino
Ready to find the perfect robe for you? Shop VienneMilano's boutique today, and browse our collection of fine lingerie, including robes.