Style | March 29, 2021 12:12 pm

The Mystery (and Glorious Return) of the Tautz Lapel Toweling Robe

Getting to know the luxurious loungewear staple

Paul Newman wearing a Tautz lapel robe
Paul Newman's Tautz Lapel robe in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.;

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Like any other dresser who came of age during the #menswear era, I was taught the proper pantheon of male style icons — Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Cary Grant, et al, — but had scarcely watched any of their films. While marooned at home amid COVID-19 a decade later, I decided to change that, queuing up classics nightly.

Much of the clothing wasn’t a surprise, as I’d seen the most canonical fits re-blogged on Tumblr one thousand times over. But one hard-to-describe item popped up time and again, on Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. It was an oversized toweling robe featuring what seemed to be peak lapels—but not quite — and worn in a way that made it appear double-breasted — but not quite. 

Confounded, I reached out to what may be the world’s foremost expert on lounge wear, Tom Beecroft. As the co-founder of Gownsmith, a maker of classic dressing gowns based on Savile Row, I figured Beecroft could shine a light on what made these arcane robes different. I soon learned the answer was something called the Tautz lapel.

“The Tautz lapel is basically a variation of a peak but rather than the lapel pointing upwards towards the shoulder, it stays horizontal,” Beecroft says. “It was popular on double-breasted lounge suits back in the first half of the 20th century but is rarely seen on suiting now.”

The Tautz is also a close cousin of the Ulster lapel but differs in that its points stay level, rather than droop. While this style of lapel certainly possesses some visual flair, it was employed in resort wear for practical reasons.

“A common thread linking toweling resort gowns together is that they’re made to be worn when someone is coming out of the water, be that a shower, pool, or sea,” says Beecroft. “So, a consideration is how to keep someone covered up and warm, and you want a lapel that can fold across the chest. Shawl lapels don’t really do that, but having the collar and lapel separate out means that you can fold the lapel across the chest and tuck it under the other side, much like you can with a raincoat or military style great coat.”

It’s true that a peak lapel could serve the same function, but Beecroft notes that its upturned points could poke the wearer’s face once folded-in—not exactly what you want, even with soft toweling fabric. 

The answer to whether these robes were definitively double-breasted is less clear-cut. “When we’re talking about pattern development internally, we tend to say that the shawl lapel is ‘single-breasted’, and the Tautz lapel is ‘double-breasted,” says Beecroft. “But of course, they both have to cross over quite a lot at the front because they’re dressing gowns.”

And finally, what was the meteoric event that rendered these marvelous robes extinct? Beecroft blames overhead bins. “I presume that type of product dropped off the radar when people traveled with carry-on luggage instead of steamer trunks, as three meters of towel is pretty sizeable and heavy,” he says.

However, the Tautz lapel toweling robe is not entirely gone from this world. Anderson & Sheppard produces a comparable model, and the style’s influence can be detected in Gownsmith’s new collection of resort gowns, which includes double-breasted toweling robes in either Bahamas yellow or Seville orange marked by a sort of Tautz/Ulster hybrid.

“When working with my pattern maker to come up with the resort gowns, we definitely wanted the functionality of being able to close the toweling across your chest and played with a few samples, finally settling on a Tautz-ish pattern, just because it was a bit archaic and we quite liked a little nod to yesteryear,” Beecroft says.

As ever, a little nostalgia never hurts.