The world of sleepwear is an ever-evolving one, bending and morphing constantly to reflect current trends, stories, and moods. Although more intimate, much like its cousin daywear, the options for sleepwear have become much more expansive throughout the years—whether it's in the form of an oversized t-shirt, a silky shift, or a matching set.
Some of sleepwear’s most memorable moments can easily be referenced back to the silver screen, making its mark on pop culture. It's made an impression on film numerous times, including Michelle Pfeiffer’s night sets in 1983’s Scarface, Audrey Hepburn’s makeshift pajamas exuding the actress’ quiet glamour in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and also in Sofia Coppola’s iconic coming of age film The Virgin Suicides, where an article of clothing came to be so much more than just that. During SS18, it famously made its way down the runway during NYFW when Vaquera featured a robe-like ensemble that was both suited for leisurely downtime and the red carpet.
Sleepwear’s history can be traced back many years ago from loungewear in India to the rise of the “Baby Doll” pajamas worn by women in the 1960’s. But maybe most delightfully it has made its way beyond the bedroom and to the light of day with brands creating pajama-inspired designs that look as good in bed as they do out on the street. Through the decades, it has been an expression of the personality, an extension of the self, and a reflection of history and experience, but how did this crossover come to be? L’Officiel spoke to Emma Kadar-Penner, Fashion Historian and Co-Founder of Friends NYC, to gain more insight into the evolution of sleepwear.
“Marie Antoinette is the first example that comes to my mind, when it comes to the blurring of daytime/nighttime dressing boundaries,” Emma says, “Marie Antoinette loved to spend time at her castle, Petit Trianon, which was designed as a glorified country estate, a place where she could pretend to be a simple, country girl and shed the strict restrictions required by her position as the wife of Louis XVI. This desire for informality extended to clothing, and while at her chateau, the Queen would dress in a much less restricted way than when she was at court”.
“In 1783, Marie Antoinette was painted in one of these Petit Trianon outfits—a tissue-thin chemise gown; a white, airy, cotton dress. It may not look like much to our contemporary eyes, but the dress resembled an article of sleepwear, not fashionable dress fit for a queen. For this reason, the portrait caused an uproar amongst the French, not only because it was made of cotton, a distinctly non-French non-silk fabric, but also because Marie Antoinette appeared to be in a state of undress. The intimacy of seeing the Queen in what appeared to be an at-home garment for rest was interpreted as a lack of respect for her position and for the French political system. The painting caused such an uproar when it was unveiled, that it was removed from the exhibition. But, as often happens, what starts as inappropriate, eventually becomes fashionable. And this style of chemise gown became popular several decades later at the beginning of the 19th century—think early 19th century Empire/Regency dresses a la Jane Austen novel”.
Today labels have adopted their own variations of the traditional sleepwear sets as well as the relaxed styles Marie Antoinette once embraced. Gucci’s new Flora print silk pajama pant is equal parts elegance and comfort, whereas other brands, such as Sleeper (which is dubbed the world’s first walking sleepwear), create lavish sleep sets that are perfect not only be worn on the street or under the covers, but even as a wedding dress or as cocktail attire. "We wanted to create pajamas for parties: a very special outfit for drinking champagne, dancing and making wishes, which will surely come true," says Asya Varetsa, a co-founder of Sleeper. Coincidentally, Sleeper was created by Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa in 2014 after being inspired by a dream. Using luxurious fabrics to reimagine classic sleepwear silhouettes, Sleeper’s pieces provide a specific type of elevated comfort.
“Perhaps because of the intimacy of sleepwear,” Emma says, “It seems to have an emotional effect on designers and can often inspire them from a personal place”.
In a world of fierce flexibility and rapid-fire change, it is apparent that the line between daywear and sleepwear continues to blur—perhaps a reflection of the “go-go-go” mentality brought on by the technology of the 20th century, and maybe, just maybe, also as a subconscious expression of our innate need for comfort.