5th Century B.C. – India
If you were to take a trip back to Ancient India you’d see something quite remarkable. Young men walking around with long, flowing robes of bright orange colors. The robe signified the man’s rank as a Buddhist monk with one shoulder being exposed but what’s spectacular about the robes is the material they were made of. Buddhist monks would take everyday garbage consisting of used up fabrics and create a robe that measured six by nine feet with the most amazing colors.
Literally one person’s trash was another’s treasure. Buddhist monks turned the robes orange by cleansing the trashed fabrics in a mixture of leaves, roots, flowers and sometimes spices. From India the trend caught on with the Shaolin Monks of China. One of the major differences is instead of having one shoulder exposed both were covered. This was one part traditional custom and another part for practical purposes. China gets much colder in winter time than does India… much colder!
Now it could be argued the everyday plain old boring bath household robes we think of today took a major turn in terms of their use. Instead of being mainly for show they were also used for home heating as well. Ottoman Sultans in Turkey wore them not only to show their rank but because they were on military campaign in Eastern Europe they needed warmth as well. Here is a picture of Sulieman the Magnificent (or Lawgiver) in a traditional Turkish Robe. Known as kaftans, these robes can still be seen in the Topkopi Palace in Istanbul and resemble the robes we wear sipping cocoa by the fire today.
Even in film the robe took on an important role in everyday life. In “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy Gandolf used the powers of his robe to not only defeat the oncoming orcs but taught the hobbits life lessons all while never changing his robe once.
As the use of robes expanded into religious ceremony and academia, they began to become more useful for keeping warm in one’s home. In the 1870s tea gowns became ultra popular among women featuring a blend of style and comfort during indoor tea time. Now we know the robe as something we throw on when it’s cold in the home. Most people feel the thick, furriness of their robe and head immediately to the couch and start watching their favorite TV program.
But still there was something missing. Every time you needed to change channels, get a drink or chase away the magazine salesman at the door you got cold all over again. Of course, now that we’re in an era that thrives on technology you can get a classic robe combined with an electric blanket.
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