Sep 10 2013 9:30am

Neither Comfy Nor Cozy: Bathrobes in Romance Novels

Escape to the Pan Pacific Vancouver image by ppacificvancouver via FlickrHow often do we have to read a specific detail in our romances before we consider it a cliché, a trend, or a trope? What if it’s a very minor detail that pops up more than once or twice? Is it considered a trend if it happens in three different romance novels?

A minor detail that always sticks out in my mind is in a scene from Linda Howard’s romantic suspense Dream Man, where the heroine and the hero are at home eating pizza, and she’s wearing a bathrobe. Not like a silky sexy-lingerie robe, but a puffy non-flattering terrycloth bathrobe. (She had to take a shower because she just woke up from an exhausting seizure-induced slumber after psychically witnessing a murder.) So she is sitting on the sofa, with her uber-protective hero, confessing all the intimate traumas of her life thus far, and eating pizza, and all I could think was, “How could she only be wearing a bathrobe?”

Since then, I've noticed a bathrobe obsession that pops up every once in a while in my romances. More than a few times now the heroine is wearing a bathrobe and the hero cannot control himself; he is suddenly fascinated with the heroine wearing the bathrobe. And it is never a “sexy” bathrobe. It’s a bulky, towel-y robe (probably down to her ankles), but it’s a brilliant plot device for romances.

The Things She Says by Kat CantrellMost recently, the alluring fluffy bathrobe popped up again, in Kat Cantrell’s The Things She Says. Our heroine needs the hero to drive her across Texas, and while they’re staying a fancy hotel, she indulges in the huge complimentary bathrobe. The heroine (named VJ) asks the hero (named Kris) for his opinion on which dress to wear to dinner that night:

He stalked into her room. She stood in the middle of it wearing that virginal white robe, loosely belted, falling off one shoulder…

Was she naked under there? He couldn’t tear his eyes off that tantalizing glimpse of VJ’s flesh…

Untie. It. So he could greedily drink in the sight of her uncovered body. Naked before him, ripe and gorgeous.

One of the best bathrobe scenes in a romance is in Getting Rid of Bradley, by Jennifer Crusie. The detective hero (Zack) is assigned to stay with the heroine (Lucy) in her home, until they can find and arrest her criminal ex-husband, Bradley.

When he climbed the stairs later, he met Lucy at the top, wrapped in a floor-length white terry-cloth robe, big enough to cover a couch…

“I put towels out for you,” Lucy went on. “In the bathroom. Do you need anything else?”

You, Zack thought. She looked like a bulky mummy in her robe, and her hair was green, and he wanted her. It was crazy. He needed a shower. A cold one.

Zack frantically expresses his frustration to his boss over the phone:

“Listen,” He said, lowering his voice. “She runs around in this white thing that’s big enough to roof Riverfront stadium, and she still drives me crazy. A cold shower is not going to do it.”

It’s pretty amazing when that one article of clothing, used mostly for hygienic daily cleaning, can make the lover obsess. To the average romance reader, a bathrobe might signify a time to relax and call it a night. But to our romance hero, it is the ultimate distraction. Maybe it’s because he is acutely aware of the heroine’s nudity beneath her bathrobe, and now the heroine is just so obviously comfortable around him, but suddenly the heroine just seems so much more vulnerable. He wants to protect her and tear off her bathrobe at the same time. Oh, the bathrobe dilemma. It’s like balancing the milkbone on top of the dog’s nose.

Have you noticed any bizarre trends in your romances lately?

“Escape to the Pan Pacific Vancouver” image by ppacificvancouver via Flickr


Jena Briars is a California girl living in D.C., feeding her brain one romance novel at a time...When she’s not busy at work, or being distracted (sometimes ambushed) by her cat, she reviews romances on her website Throughout the Pages.

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I think what makes the bathrobe so appealing for these heroes is that the heroine is entirely naked underneath--and usually the bathrobe is only loosely tied, so one tug reveals all. I love this post, thanks!
Jena Briars
2. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
Megan - I completely agree - it's the nudity factor and at the same time the other person is just SOO casual/comfortable being *almost* naked.

Now I'm wondering if there's a romance with a hero wearing the bathrobe...
3. Rose In RoseBear
Just finished re-reading Mary Balogh's latest few series, from the Slightlys to the Simplys to the two Survivors Club novels. Lots and lots of men on their wedding nights in dressing gowns with nothing underneath ---- yum!
4. Lm7418
There's a scene from Joy by Jayne Ann Krentz where she's in her gown with a towel round her head, and the hero reflects that he's got a good whisky, he's out of the storm in the peace and the warm, and if her lapel just shifted over slightly, it'd be a perfect evening. She's thinking that the freshly scrubbed look is not so flattering at 33. I think of that every time I go for the flannel dressing-gown/hair towel combo (and remember that it was more amusing when I read it before I was 33!)
Jena Briars
5. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@RoseBear: Ah, yes - men in dressing gowns counts! :)

@Lm7418: I love that! And I think bathrobes are officially ruined for me now. I reach for my bathrobe and think of romance novels (but then again, when am I not thinking of romances...)
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