Cosmopolitanism and Upward Mobility in the Midwest

Banyan; ca. 1900
Gift of Dorothy Barfoot
Kansas State University Historic Costume and Textile Museum, 1978.29.36
Wool challis, cotton calico, cotton twill

This banyan belonged to Dr. Albert Fremont Barfoot, an Iowa physician. The banyan, an upper class men’s leisure robe, denoted wealth and status among educated and wealthy men due to its expensive materials and exotic Persian and Asian influences. The word “banyan” comes from the Sanskrit term for a Hindu trader or merchant, as it was traders that eventually brought the garment to Europe. The fabric on the exterior of this robe is wool challis, while the interior is a similarly patterned cotton calico. The collar and pocket flap are made from cotton twill, and the dyes used to color the fabric would have been produced in India, such as indigo and cochineal.

The banyan was worn at home during leisure activities. This speaks to this article of clothing as a symbol of class and cosmopolitan style. Only a wealthy elite was able to enjoy and celebrate in a specific outfit leisure time. The robe was especially popular among intellectual men because of its resemblance to academic robes. Thus, the banyan became a symbol of not only financial status and colonial trading relations, but of intelligence and ingenuity as well. Many famous philosophers, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, posed for portraits wearing banyans. For Albert Barfoot, a man who heralded from a Midwestern farming family, ownership of a banyan conveyed and was meant to articulate an impressive step up in the social ladder.

 Explore what else Kylie McKenzie learned about the Banyan


Kylie McKenzie