Peerless Patterns Pajamas, 1919

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One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer is when did women start sleeping in pajamas. This is important to me because it was pajamas-wearing that led to women wearing pants as a beach cover-up, which led to women wearing pants other than bathing suits, knickers or breeches in public.

It’s not like women were not already wearing “pants” of some sort before the twentieth century. Drawers and pantaloons as underwear had been around for a long time.  And while bloomers did not really catch on when Ms. Amelia advocated for them in the 1850s, nor when the practicality of them for riding bicycles came up in the 1890s, thousands of schoolgirls were wearing bloomers in gym class from the 1860s onward. Women who loved hiking had taken to wearing knickers and divided skirts.

It seems a bit surprising to me that in all my resources, I can’t find an example of women in pajamas before the year 1912. I feel pretty sure that this is not the beginning of the practice, but I’ll be the first to admit that my resource library is a bit thin in the pre-1920s years.

According to the 1912 Spring and Summer catalog from the Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Company, “Pajamas [are] the latest idea in underwear.  Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year…For traveling, pajamas are convenient…”  Even so, it appears that the nightgown continued to be the sleeping garment of choice for most women. It wasn’t until 1918 that I’ve found pajamas offered in a variety of styles in mass market and sewing pattern catalogs.

Starting in 1917 or so, pajamas became more prevalent in the catalogs I looked at, and a new, similar garment appeared – the work overall. During World War I the necessity of women taking on jobs that were traditionally thought to be for men led to women adapting a male garment, the overall work pants. I can’t help but think that the increased popularity of pajamas for sleeping is related to the adoption of overalls for working.

I do have a few things to say about this odd garment. It would keep a camper warm on chilly nights, but bless her heart if she had to answer the call of nature while wearing this suit. I keep fantasizing that the odd way the back seam zig-zags means that it is open below that horizontal seam. That would be most helpful.

Lastly, the text describes the pants above as “bloomers” but they are actually an odd combination of bloomers and knickers. Bloomers usually have an elastic waist, very full legs, and elastic at the bottoms of the legs. Knickers usually button at the waist, have less full legs, and have a band that buttons at the bottoms of the legs. Blickers?

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13 responses to “Peerless Patterns Pajamas, 1919

  1. seweverythingblog

    Do you think women of the Old West had something to do with the “women’s pants” trend in the pre-1920s? I love watching movies about the old west of the late 19th century, and see female characters in menswear (of course, tight fitting). Also see a lot of split skirts when the character is riding a horse.

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    • Interesting question! It’s very well documented that women on the frontier, especially those on farms and ranches, wore pants (often taken from the man’s wardrobe) in their daily lives. Full skirts were just too hard to manage, and only the family was there to witness it. There is a great book called Women in Pants by Catherine Smith that uses photos from her collection where she shows lots of farm women in (ill-fitting) pants. She also has photos of Western show performers in pants and divided skirts. Some performers, like Annie Oakley, always performed in skirts, as she did not want to look masculine.

      But your question was did this wearing of the pants in the West lead to the general trend toward pants for women. I can’t say for sure, because I have not looked into this area at all. My guess would be no.

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  2. jacq staubs

    Interesting to me who / profile of customer purchasing them? WW1 looming – corsets were still being worn along with appropriate undergarments – and never really shown in the “mainstream” P J’s! ? Then in a VERY short time frame – skirts shortened – corsets out The the window – hair bobbed ! Almost overnight! Was it the change with WW1?

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    • I feel pretty safe in saying that WWI was the catalyst for a lot of change in many social areas. In clothing it is pretty easy to track how skirts quickly rose and got wider for increased mobility. Then after the war ended, they narrowed again, and lengthened, but not to prewar lengths. From there skirt lengths began their trek to the knee, with a few diversions.

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  3. re the outdoor sleeping garment… I do think that you are correct and that the back is a split seam up to the point where it shows as a “zigzag”. The reason that I think this is the case, is that I used to own a vintage pair of ladies all in one “long johns” with the same unusual back. The garment overlapped in the back up to the point where the horizontal seam shows, approximately at waist level, and was open from a bit in front of the inseam all that way. In wear, it stayed neatly closed until the function of opening was needed for doing the necessary.

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  4. Love the bunny outfit! It is hard to imagine that it was popular, though. Don’t you wish old catalogs came with some sort of popularity list, so you could see if ideas caught on?

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  5. Our friends owned a cabin in the mountains with a screened in sleeping porch all around the front. It was filled with beds — with flannel sheets — but even on the California Coast is could be pretty chilly. Health cures and TB sanatoriums had sleeping porches, too. I love the head cover — keeping your head warm when camping in a sleeping bag does seem to help. I inherited a pink, embroidered cotton one piece pajama from my aunt Dot (b. circa 1900) that had a long, open crotch/inseam closed with snaps. But those slightly mannish dotted pjs in the upper left corner look much more modern!

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  6. Christina

    I have come across a direct reference c1900 to European/American women sleeping in pajamas – in China – and that they were more comfortable than nightgowns. Pajamas or pyjamas were for lounging in and were derived from the Hindi word for loose trousers (also Persian). They were adopted by Europeans. I suspect that the Oriental influences in fashion helped to create more socially acceptable lounging trousered attire for women until pajamas became sleepwear. The First World War also influenced women’s fashions so that wearing pants or trousers was no longer just for men. It’s interesting that pajamas were described and sold as underwear.

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  7. My earliest pattern (…so far) for pyjamas is from a 1915 La Mode Illustrée where it is described as a “Matinee Pyjama”, and is a jacket that appears to be worn with a skirt: https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/492894267/matinee-pyjama-vintage-reproduction-pdf?ga_search_query=pyjama&ref=shop_items_search_1
    Although intended for women, it does have a very masculine look about it…

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