One of my chief interests continues to be how women transitioned into pants in the twentieth century. One part of the story is pajamas (pyjamas). Today pajamas were pretty much for sleeping and lounging, and that’s how they started out in the 1910s. But by the middle of the 1920s pajamas were being worn on a very limited basis in public. Someone discovered that pajamas made a very effective beach cover-up, and so pajamas moved from the boudoir to the beach.
The first reference I’ve found to pajamas being worn in public is from 1925. The January 15, 1925 issue of Vogue declared:
“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.”
So 1924 pretty much is the starting point for the wearing of pajamas at the beach. And while Vogue seemed to think not much would come of the trend, Best & Company ran an ad for beach pajamas in the same Vogue issue.
“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.”
I recently found two catalogs from American mass merchandiser Montgomery Ward, one from 1925 and the other from 1930. It’s interesting to see how this one company featured pajamas in the two years. In 1925, there was only one pair of pajamas offered in the catalog, and they were obviously just for sleeping, with the top being pretty much just a short nightgown.
But five years later the picture was quite different. I found six different sets for women, and several more for teens. All were available in multiple color combinations.
The top and pants pictured above are typical with the combination of a solid color and a matching print. The ad reads, “Of mercerized Front Page Cotton broadcloth, whose fine quality is quite in keeping with the excellent tailoring of these pajamas. The printed blouse , finished with collar and pert bow of plain color, tucks slimly into plain colored trousers, whose smooth-fitting yoke, pocket, and cuffs of the print lend contrast.”
Remember, the year is 1930, but one can already see the return of the natural waistline in this set.
There were several sets that also had matching robes. Again we see the emphasis on the waist and a contrast of colors. “What gay flower effects are achieved in these pajamas – designed especially for Ward’s. Of printed Wendy batiste in popular tuck-in style, with front yoke and elastic in waist at back. Cuffs and yoke of trousers contrast in plain white, as do the yoke and tie of the blouse. The lounging coat, of Peter Pan cotton pique, has a flower print just the color reverse of the pajamas, adding to their air of smartness.”
Probably the most interesting set is the one above. Unlike the others, this ensemble was located with the day dresses instead of the lingerie. They refer to it as a “kitchenette ensemble”. The copy even refers to wearing these in public. “Fashion’s last word in nonchalant Kitchenette Pajama Ensembles – not only for house but flower gardening, boating or beach. The smart world revels in it!”
Also fun to note are the solid color inserts below the knees on the trousers. This is showing that pants legs are beginning to widen, a feature that really does help separate the Twenties from the Thirties. In a more fashion-forward publication, you might already be seeing much wider pant legs in 1930.