When we speak of gowns today, we probably imagine those dresses used by our grandmothers when they were at home. But if we mention the Cuban gown, perhaps many will recall the sensuality and elegance irradiated by star Rosita Fornés or the unforgettable Celia Cruz on the stage.
Indeed, the Cuban gown was the dress chosen by the Island’s ladies for their public appearances, among them famous artists and singers like Rita Montaner, Olga Guillot and Maruja González, or the Queen of Guaguancó, Celeste Mendoza.
The Cuban gowns, with their tight, plunging necklines, wrapped those who wore them in a seductive halo. The fabric adjusted to the curves of the Cuban women, marking the waist at the hip, and the fine lines continued in numberless spreads, without petticoat, ending in a long tail. These dresses, of very wide sleeves, were embellished with ribbons, lace and insertions, but always in a plain style. In this way they produced a luxury effect, neither showy nor affected, but profoundly sensual.
Like the most part of the Island’s culture, the Cuban gown emerged from a mixture of foreign elements. On one side, the peculiarities of the wardrobe of Spanish singers and dancers; on the other, the French-born robe de chambre or déshabillé. French ladies had created a home gown, a comfortable, elegant piece of wardrobe without the torture elements from the times of suffocating corsets, hoop skirts and fabric capes and embellishments.
In time, this style gradually became popular. Today we can find in the streets of Habana Vieja many flower vendors wearing dresses similar to the ones from those times.
Cuban artists and singers, particularly rumba dancers, began to adopt a stage wardrobe that incorporated many elements of that Cuban home gown. As the century went by, the feminine dressing style evolved and the female body was more and more uncovered, which made the wardrobe of night places ever more daring.
The female rumba dancer costume became a two-piece garment, bra and panty, almost always a bikini. The Cuban gown also lost its sleeves, and only the wide spreads remained, fixed to the forearms, and the tail, resembling a thick snake up to three meters long, which dances next to its master. That is the attire we see today during carnival or in night club shows.