Presumably the noun ‘robe’ was combined with ‘bath’ to indicate a garment that was used to cover up after washing oneself. It was a way to preserve the wearer’s modesty when moving to and from the bathroom or bath house.
Origins of the Robe as a Leisure Garment
As a dressing gown, the custom of wearing a women’s bathrobe does not enjoy a very long history in the relative scheme of things. Although there is little documentation as to when this switch from papal wear to leisure garment first occurred, aristocratic ladies of the 1700s were known to cover their nightgowns with a decorated sleeping jacket.
However, robes which function for purposes such as they do today were not commercially available until the 20th century. Up until that time, nightclothes were seen as mere coverings to fully disguise the human form (both male and female) and were purposely unattractive. Certainly it was not until nightwear became more scanty and revealing that there was a real need for bathrobes to be worn.
At the turn of the century, robes de nuit were the first women’s night garments considered a fashionable part of a trousseau, adorned with embellishments, and constructed of finer fabrics such as silk, lawn, and cambric.
It was a bit longer before bathrobes were an acceptable accessory in a man’s wardrobe. In the 1930s, dressing gowns became all the vogue for lounging about the house. Of course in the next two decades, a man’s bathrobe, or smoking jacket, would become the quintessential symbol for leisure men of wealth who enjoyed a fine cigar.
It is hard for many people to fathom that robes for women and men are such a modern item of clothing in consideration of how common they are today. Thankfully, there are many options available for us in these comfortable and functional leisure garments.