Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

One reason I know I’ll never be able to write a book is because I’m too easily distracted.  For the past two months I’ve been immersed in old magazines and books, looking for references to women’s hiking attire.  But I also found myself being attracted to other subjects that kept turning up, especially ones that had to do with women wearing pants.

Most intriguing was the way beach pyjamas burst onto the American fashion scene in 1925.  In January, 1925, Vogue speculated on the success of the daring new style:

All the shops are showing the new and brilliant beach pyjamas, so successfully worn at the Lido – so daringly sponsored by one lone Newport leader last summer.  Will they – or won’t they – be seen at Palm Beach?  Poiret, for one, declares that they will.  But customs are very different at the Lido and at Palm Beach, and it is unlikely that their popularity will be as great in this country as in Italy.

To me, the term beach pyjamas conjures up a vision of the wide legged one-piece pyjamas worn in the early 1930s.  But Vogue was referring to an entirely different silhouette.  The beach pajamas of the 1920s were more like pajamas of today, with narrow legs and consisting of two pieces.  The photo above is from a 1925 ad for Best & Co.

The Lido Pajama is the latest thing for beach wear.  These have wool jersey trousers and a smart little mandarin top of bright patterned rubberized silk banded in jersey.

By April, Vogue had taken another tone when referring to beach pyjamas.  In an article titled “Warm Weather Accessories,” beach pyjamas were mentioned almost matter of factly.

For those who prefer the freedom of the pyjama is this terry cloth beach set.

Through the end of the 1920s, beach pyjamas were just that – a two-piece set of top and trousers.  The photo above was taken in 1929.

To get a better picture of what American women were actually wearing, I turned to Good Housekeeping, a magazine that had monthly fashion features but which was not a fashion magazine.  It was not until June of 1930 that I found a reference to beach pyjamas in that more mainstream publication.  The one pictured was French and one-piece, but the trouser legs were still slim.

But wide legs were on their way.  The illustration above is from a 1931 publication from Wright’s Bias Fold Tape.  You can see the transition from the older style pajamas in the green suit on the right, to the wider legs of the other two examples.

Of course I don’t know why the legs got so wide so fast, but it can be observed that the wide legged pyjamas of the early 1930s seem to mirror the shape of the floor length evening gowns of the period with their narrow waists and wide, sweeping hem.  Those of the 1920s were a more boyish look, in keeping with the “garçonne” look of the mid 1920s.

 

13 Comments

Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Photographs

13 responses to “Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

  1. Interesting write up, Lizzie. Did beach pajamas get the beach part of their name because they were first worn in Palm Beach ? Also does the spelling pyjamas spelling refer to something different than a garment to sleep in. Or are they a lounging outfit…..just curious. Thanks

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    • My Concise Oxford dictionary says that “pyjamas” is the preferred British spelling, and that “pajamas” is the American spelling. (Py- or pa- jama was a word the British borrowed from India, — like “bungalow.”) The Lido, in Venice, is a beach (with resort hotels and casino.) I suspect that “lounging pajamas” were made of more luxurious fabrics than the cotton flannel pjs of my youth. What a nice topic to pursue!

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  2. Enjoyed this article, Lizzie. I have never had the good fortune of finding a pair, hopefully one of these days.

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  3. Great article, Lizzie – thank you for sharing! So much I didn’t know about this glam style.

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  4. great article – thank you for the research…”Evening Pyjamas” appeared – early/mid 1970’s -by Holly Harp. They were also done by others… made in luxe fabrics -silk crepe and silk pongee- the legs were wide and had a camisole and full, sweeping 3/4 and hip lengths jackets -really very sexy and beautiful. I sold them in my shop in Key West-Margo Kidder bought them (Holly Harp in pale pink silk crepe) to wear on the Tonight Show-Carson was very shook up !!!

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  5. Okay, this is what I want to wear to the beach at this age… Loved all of those pictures!

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  6. I’m thinking about how quickly legs went wide in the 60s bell-bottom era. What about elephant bells in ’66 or so? At the same time, very skinny jeans were also in style, though primarily for men.

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  7. Pingback: From My Collection: Beach Pyjamas | The Vintage Traveler

  8. I love beach pyjamas! You might like to have a look at this photo of my aunt and her friend in their wide legged beach playsuits, early 1930s,
    https://rubyfoot.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/once-upon-a-time-it-was-sunny/

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  9. Pingback: Paris Fashions from The Delineator, 1929, Part 2 | witness2fashion

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