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The Bathrobe
Photo/Bettmann via Getty Images
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Think of Sherlock Holmes and it’s hard to escape cinematic images of Inverness capes and deerstalker hats. Truth is the seminal super sleuth donned neither of those in the canonical stories. But what he did wear in print—over and over—was what we would call a bathrobe. Only Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, referred to it as a dressing gown. 

That may sound a little gender suspect now, but in the Victorian era, such a “gown” was an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. In a time of a strict dress code that kept men cinched up all day in layers of clothing and accessories, a flowing robe was a fine fallback position for relaxing at home—while still keeping up appearances.

Today, the terry cloth bathrobe is typically employed to wear over pajamas, cover up on the way from shower to closet or, in the case of Tony Soprano, collect the morning newspaper. But 140 years ago, the dressing gown was also suitable attire for informally entertaining guests (while in shirt, trousers and an ascot). In Sherlock’s case, it was the perfect ensemble for smoking tobacco and solving crimes.

Hugh Hefner, who seemed to spend his life in a bathrobe and pajamas, wrapped himself in a rotation of red silk or velvet numbers, with contrasting black lapels. (The shorter ones were more accurately smoking jackets.) Holmes wore a wool robe (perhaps a concession to poor heating) that seemed to fade from blue to purple to a mousey gray color over the course of time.

However, most emblematic of the era’s loungewear were jacquard woven silks in vibrant patterns like paisley. Derek Rose of London is the modern purveyor of that tradition. But the company’s wide selection also works its way from cottons and velour through to cashmere. The game is afoot.

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