Growing up, I watched an awful lot of movies with women wafting about in peignoirs and other impractical loungewear. I’m particularly fond of some of the nonsense Nora (Myrna Loy) wears in the Thin Man series of movies. (These movies are national treasures.)
I had a peignoir once – for less than 24 hours.
The first year my dad was in Vietnam, my mother pulled out all the stops for Christmas. As a precocious 7 year-old, I received a frilly, silky, filmy nightgown and matching robe (peignoir) in lavender and purple. Opening the gift, my jaw dropped at the visual of the fabric nestled amongst tissue paper. Adding even more wonder and decadence was a small bottle of Evening in Paris eau de toilette – a gorgeous royal blue and gold punch to the white, lavender and purple.
Is it any wonder I’m a diva?
Neither the peignoir nor the Evening in Paris lasted long. Later on Christmas Day, my brother duly poured the eau de toilette into the toilet. While my mother tried to explain this was a perfectly rational act for a small boy with no idea of the proper use for “toilet water”, I was, literally, sick with anger. So sick, I threw up all over my peignoir, my bed, the floor, and my mother. My brother, the brat, slept through the whole event.
The peignoir didn’t survive the cleaning. Oh sure, it’s funny now, but I feel my anger and my gorge rising.
I was an adult before I indulged in decadent nightwear again.
Growing up on the coasts of California, Hawaii, Virginia and North Carolina, there wasn’t much call for sleepwear that provided warmth. Both of my parents were from Michigan and, as a consequence, we always had traditional nightwear of some sort – as well as a bathrobe. My bathrobes collected dust on the closet hook and most of us slept in t-shirts and underwear. I didn’t understand the purpose of the bathrobe any more than I understood the purpose of the bra my mother gave me when I was 10. Both of them seemed pointless and, in retrospect, the bra certainly was. My mother was diligent about wearing her robe until she changed into clothes, but the rest of us lacked the modesty gene.
Moving to West Virginia during high school, the point of pajamas, robes and house slippers became apparent. These things ward off cold. (No, ’tis true.)
That first year in West Virginia trying to stay warm during a particularly bad winter was a challenge. We experimented with longjohns, flannel pajamas, tube socks, and any number of attire that seemed foreign to our tropical sensibilities. I finally settled on longjohns, an over-sized t-shirt, three pair of socks, and the dusty bathrobe of North Carolina vintage which I can’t remember well enough even to state its color.
Soon, My Beloved Bathrobe appeared under the Christmas tree and a love affair began that I wasn’t aware of until well after the robe died a brutal death tangling with a Sears Kenmore agitator.
While I never had a significant growth spurt, I grew significantly. By high school graduation, I was 6’0” and my aunt insisted on telling people I was 5’12” because women aren’t six feet tall. I never bought into such nonsense, but buying clothes became a real challenge. Six foot tall women aren’t now the anomaly they were in the 70s, but nonetheless tall-sizes were available for freaks of nature like myself. The problem then and the problem now centers on the silly idea that if a woman is tall, she is also wide. I’m wider than I was, but I’m still not as wide as most makers of women’s tall-sized clothing think I should be. Even so, my mother managed to find a bathrobe in a beautiful turquoise that fit my beanpole-still-didn’t-need-a-bra frame, wrapped me in warmth, and was floor length. It was a heavy, soft chenille and extremely well-made. It was years before I realized what a marvel it was.
By the time My Beloved Bathrobe entered my life, I’d acclimated to West Virginia’s near perfect four seasons. It got a workout during the months of December, January and February, but was largely ignored the rest of the year.
Then we moved to Wisconsin where I learned why Dante described one of hell’s levels as cold.
I took to wearing my bathrobe over whatever it was that I was wearing in the house. On particularly cold nights, I wore it to bed. As soon as I got home from work, I changed into longjohns, jeans, 3 pair of socks, houseshoes, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and a flannel shirt with the bathrobe completing the ensemble. It took a long time to dress and undress in Wisconsin.
Eventually, I acclimated and got down to one or two layers of clothes for most of the year, but even during what passed for summer in the Great Frozen North, my first act upon entering the house was to put on the bathrobe. Some seasons, there wasn’t anything under the bathrobe. Some seasons, the entire contents of my closet were under the robe. If I was home, I was wearing the bathrobe. After returning to the comparatively tropical West Virginia, the routine was so entrenched I wore the bathrobe daily except during the brutal heat of July and August.
The robe was well-made, but at minimum I was spending 4 hours a day wearing it – for nearly two decades. I slopped coffee on it, spilled make-up on it, wiped my hands on it while cooking, traipsed through wet grass on the way to the mailbox, speared it with scissors, ripped it on door jambs and, generally, abused it. When the kid was born, he spit up on it, peed on it, spewed sweet potatoes on it, and, more than a few times, bled on it.
The washing machine took its toll, but the robe came out of the dryer clean, if a little more threadbare with each washing. At about 15 years, the fabric started disintegrating. I mended it as well as possible and continued to wear it. One day, about 12 years ago, I took it out of the washer – in pieces. I shrugged and put it in the trash. At its death, I didn’t realize what an integral part of life My Beloved Bathrobe was. I didn’t mourn it until much later.
I tried to replace it. If I could find a robe long enough, it was some horrible fabric that wasn’t going to stand up to my abuse. Or it zipped or buttoned. Or I had to pull it over my head. Or it didn’t have pockets. Or it had a hood. But mostly, I couldn’t find one long enough. I began to grieve.
The search got frenzied about ten years ago. I’d tried to sew one or two (oh the horror!). I bought a few. I was given a few. I haunted department stores and spent hours online searching. How hard can it be to find a 60” hoodless robe with a tie belt and pockets that can be washed and bleached?
While searching for the robe, I also looked now and again for a peignoir – something full-length but floaty and silky though perhaps not purple and lavender. No luck there either. I’m mystified by what passes as women’s nightwear these days. I can’t buy a functional robe and I can’t buy a peignoir. It does seem that I can buy Evening in Paris products. Go figure.
So, I’m on Skype and whining about the bathrobe situation for the millionth time when I fire up the web browser and go looking again.
There it was.
I was stunned.
I peered closer. It wasn’t quite perfect. I would have preferred a set-in waistband with an attached tie belt like My Beloved Bathrobe I, but it was so close to perfect that describing it as perfect is not an exaggeration. It was a tad pricier than what I would have preferred, but still I had no complaints. I ordered it, before it could disappear. My Beloved Bathrobe II was about to enter my life.
Three hours later, I was peering into the mailbox to see if it had arrived yet. I checked every 20 minutes when I was home and awake.
It took 13 days before it got here. I bought it from a London company, it was made in Turkey, and shipped from Sweden. Feeling continental but eager, I ripped the plastic mailing bag open with my teeth, pulled the robe out of it’s protective package, groaned with delight and put it on. That was almost 24 hours ago. I haven’t taken it off except to shower.
I love my robe. The fabric is lush, the pockets are in just the right place, the sleeves are delightfully too long, and it’s just the right weight. It’s perfect. I love it.
My houseshoes (both pair) look kind of shabby with it, but the robe will be shabby by this time tomorrow so it’s all going to work out. This is a good thing – it took me years to find houseshoes I could live with.
I love my robe. I really do. This time I will not wait until several years after its death to love it. I love it now. I’m a little anxious to get the first coffee dribble over and done with – it’s a bit like new car syndrome and the first door ding – the point at which I can relax and really wallow.
I may wear it to work on Monday. Lord knows, those people are tired of hearing me prattle on about the robe I used to have and how, maybe, I found a new one. If I wear it, perhaps they won’t have to listen to me wax rhapsodic about it.
I’m told “toilette de visite” translates roughly as “fancy robe”. There’s nothing fancy about My Beloved Robe (either I or II), but it seems it needs a name deserving of its status in my life. Perhaps I should save that name for the peignoir set that will show up when I can least afford it. Besides, My Beloved Robe is far more accurate.