You spend one-third of your life, or approximately 25 years, wearing this outfit. Sure, the exact pieces of clothing might change throughout your life, but you know them all by the same name: your pajamas. Whether you prefer to snooze in a thick woolly nightgown, a lacy lingerie set, or a t-shirt and underwear, you may have never considered why it became so normal to slip on a whole new outfit for sleep. With one-third of your life spent asleep, it’s certainly worth finding out.
Before pajamas, long dresses called nightshirts were commonly worn to bed. British colonists are responsible for the introduction of pajamas to the Western world. Those who colonized the “Far East,” or places like China and India, brought home colorful, loose-fitting, comfortable shirts and pants called “pajamas.” The word “pajama” is derived from the Persian words “pay,” meaning leg, and “jama,” meaning garment. These garments were not worn in bed by the people who invented them. It was only upon the pajama’s introduction to England that British citizens began to regard them as lounge and sleepwear.
It wasn’t until as recently as the 1920s that pajamas came to America. Yes, it’s possible that your grandma outdates their American debut. American men began to swap out their nightshirts for drawstring-tie pants and button-up tops. Not long after that, women traded their nightgowns for the ease and comfort of ankle-length pants and jacket tops. This was due in part to the hit Hollywood film It Happened One Night, in which female lead Claudette Colbert’s character donned a male pajama set borrowed from her male costar’s character. Silk, satin, and chiffon were popular materials for these garments.
Soon enough, pajama fashions morphed. Between the 1940s and 1960s, women began to slip into “shorty” PJs, which were small, frilly rompers, and eventually “babydoll” PJs, which were very short dresses garnished with lace and other adornments. During the 1970s, unisex top-and-bottom combos came into fashion.
From the Sheets to the Streets
Going out in your pajamas usually means you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Perhaps you’re running late, you’re not feeling well, or you just forgot to do your laundry. Whatever the case, it’s often a misguided decision, and you might end up getting a bit of side-eye. That said, a few notable individuals had the opposite takes on PJs in public. In the early 1900s, a designer named Paul Poiret came up with a silk pajama set that could be worn during the daytime. In the 1920s, the iconic Coco Chanel designed a pair intended for wear on the beach: a baggy, yet suggestive set that had people a bit scandalized.
For a few decades during and after the course of World War Two, pajamas remained bedroom-bound. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that designers like Irene Galitzine and Halston re-popularized the daytime pajama trend.
Today, unique sets of pajamas are totally acceptable public wear. It’s probably best to keep your three-week-unwashed sweatpants and Snoopy tee behind closed doors, but a fresh and stylish pair is a-OK. Take your cues from celebrities like Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who have all donned full pajama sets or partial pajama sets in public, on the red carpet, and on the runway. In June of 2018, Kate Moss was seen in a rose gold set paired with heels. Just a few months later, Gwendolyn Christie wore a purple, printed pair with strappy sandals. Study up and soon enough you’ll be ready for the runway without leaving your bed.
You could also just toss on your favorite worn-out pair and sleep a little easier now that you know the history of your bedtime outfit. Sweet dreams!