Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive

The Journey of a Chinese Robe: Part 2

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In Part I of the series, I reviewed the history of Philip Brunelleschi Cousland, the original owner of the robe (FRC2016.01.001 shown in the photo below). In this part, I will consider the structural and decorative elements of the garment using the Observation checklist from the Dress Detective (note 1).

FRC2016.01.001_Front_Web

Man’s Chinese robe dated to 1893-1902 Ryerson FRC2016.01.001. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

With a lining made of lilac silk, the outer shell of this robe is constructed of natural materials – heavy cotton, brocade and silk. There is also a layer of royal blue silk in between the outer and inner layers, as visible where the stitching has come undone underneath the armpit (see photo below). The body of the robe is ornamented in various symbolic motifs including dragons, clouds and mountains that will be discussed in more depth in Part III.

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FRC2016.01.001. Detail of royal blue interfacing. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

The robe is an asymmetrical design with the opening on the right side of the garment. The inner flap reaches from the right side seam to the center front and the over flap crosses over the body from the left to right. The main portion of the inner flap is made of the same heavy blue cotton used for most of the garment and there is a singular dragon motif a few inches up from the hem. The flap is slightly discoloured which is most likely due to rubbing against the lining of the over flap. The hem is a simple striped pattern with alternating shades of blue in sections abut 0.25 inches/0.6 cm wide.

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FRC2016.01.001. Illustration of robe front by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

The over flap has a center front seam where the pattern of the fabric almost perfectly lines up. Whereas the back of the robe has a center back seam until 27.5 inches/70 cm down where the seam opens up into a slit. This would allow for flexibility in movement as the robe is full-length.

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FRC2016.01.001. Illustration of robe back by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

Made of lilac silk, the lining of the garment is in good condition. It has been delicately hand sewn on in increments of 3 small stitches and then a long stitch between 1 inch/2.5cm and 1.5 inch/4 cm in length underneath the fabric. The stitching has come undone underneath the armpit, exposing the royal blue silk interfacing. The hole is about 12 inches/30.5 cm long. Located slightly to the right of the center back seam are three dime-sized stains, along with some yellow discolouration around the neckline. This is most likely from perspiration. There is also some slight discolouration down the center back which was probably caused from friction. Around openings of the sleeves near the wrist, is also quite a bit of yellow staining.

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FRC2016.01.001. Detail of lining. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

Rather than a sleeve sewn into a sleeve hole, it has been cut as a part of the front and back pieces which are then folded at the shoulder and sewn down the sides. The sleeve, which is also lined in lilac silk and royal blue piping, features a section blue brocade with floral patterns on it that reaches 10.75 inches/27 cm up from the wrist opening. It is then accented with a 0.5 inch/1.25 cm band of royal blue fabric with gold threading. There is then a 3.5 inch/9 cm section of horizontal stripe motifs about 0.5 inch/1.25cm wide in different shades of blue, gold, green and beige. The same colours are used in the section of cloud motifs that follow.

The garment is fastened with 5 brass ball closures and an additional hidden closure similar to the others. The first brass ball closure sits horizontally at the center front on top of the band of royal blue trim. The next one is located 4.5 inches/11.5 cm down the edge of the over flap. The third closure sits diagonally underneath the armpit about 13 inches/33 cm away from the previous. 10.5 inches/27 cm down the side seam is the fourth closure and 5 inches/13 cm away from that is the fifth closure. These last two closures have been sewn on horizontally with the loop portion of it sewn onto the back of the side seam. The hidden closure is located vertically, 7.5 inches/20 cm from the fifth closure. This one is has a knot on the end rather than a brass ball.

The brass balls boast intricate detailing and are connected to the bodice with a 2 inch/5 cm piece of royal blue fabric, the same used for the neckline accents and piping. The other half of the closure is also made of the same fabric, but has been folded to create a loop for the ball to go through. The brass balls are all in excellent condition, with the exception of the gold thread fraying from the attaching fabric.

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FRC2016.01.001. Detail of brass closures. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

The neckline of the robe is quite high and includes several decorative elements. Closest to the neck is a 0.5 inch/1.25 cm band of the royal blue coloured fabric with gold thread work. Next there is a 2 inch/5 cm section of brown cotton with green, blue and white motifs, followed by another 0.5 inch/1.25 cm band of royal blue fabric. This decorative section starts at the center front of the inner flap, wraps around the neckline, extends 3 inches/7.5 cm past the center front and then drops down, curving until it connects to the side opening. This gives the robe a unique asymmetrical shape.

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FRC2016.01.001. Detail of neckline and brass closures. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

The hem of the robe reaches 13 inches/33 cm up from the bottom of the garment and is made of a diagonal striped motif pattern. The stripes are about 0.0625 inch/0.15 cm wide, but the use of different shades of blue, green, gold and brown make it appear as through six individual stripes make up one larger gradient stripe. Above this is a section of cloud motifs about 2 inches/5 cm wide and then a section of overlapping wave patterns in different shades of blue. There is one single dime-sized rust-colour stain on the hem.

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FRC2016.01.001. Detail of striped hem. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

For a robe that is over 100 years old, it is in excellent condition with the exception of slight fraying under the right armpit and minimal balling over the body of the garment. Consistent with garment construction of the time, the robe is both hand and machine-stitched. The seams, most are which are not visible, are machine-stitched. Whereas the lining and closures have been carefully sewn by hand. The garment is covered in different patterns and motifs each of which holds significant meaning, and in the next post, I will take a deeper look at the importance of these symbols.

Notes

Note 1: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca

This post was edited by Ingrid Mida.

One thought on “The Journey of a Chinese Robe: Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Journey of a Chinese Robe: Part 4 | Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

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