The head teacher of a British primary school has urged mothers not to wear pyjamas when bringing their children in, for anxiety of defining them a bad instance. But pyjamas, far away from being seen as dowdy and scruffy, were once at the very apex of fashion.
The Lido, Venice’s most famous beach, has been known for more than 150 years for its sophistication. So, an advertising poster from 1927 comes as something of a surprise.
It proclaimed to potential wealthy guests that the Lido was “the beach of sunshine and pyjamas”. Its sand and hotels were places where people could feel comfortable spending days and evenings relaxing and partying in a garment today links with bedtime, convalescence or days slobbing out on the sofa.
In a week where a head teacher in Darlington has told mothers not to do the school run wearing pyjamas for anxiety of not setting a “good example” to their children, it’s hard to believe they were ever haute couture.
But the 1920 s were a different time. While pyjamas – from the Hindi “paejama”, entailing “leg covering” – had become established nightwear for men since the 1870 s, it was seen as adventurous for a woman to wear trousers of any kind, especially in public.
The force for change was the French fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who chose baggy pyjama-style trousers – complete with a loose-fitting shirt or a sleeveless top – could blend elegance and comfort.
As early as 1918, she began wearing “beach pyjamas”. With their gender-confusing suggestion of the boudoir, the latter are seen as shocking, but such was Chanel’s influence that they became popular among rich females by the mid-1 920 s.
The up-and-coming resort of Juan-les-Pins on France’s Cote d’Azur marketed itself on being less stuffy than rival destinations and became popularly known as “Pyjamaland” in English and “Pyjamapolis” in French, so commonly worn were they among its guests. Some chose Chanel-style fashion pyjamas, but others, apparently for fun, spent their days outdoors in actual bedtime pyjamas, complete with dressing gown.
“There is a town in France, where summertimes start at the beginning of springtime and aims at the end of autumn, ” wrote the journalist Robert de Beauplan in 1931. “There, you can see females wearing strange gowns. It’s strictly speaking Pyjamapolis.” In the same year, Vogue magazine was advertising pyjamas as “woollen suits for the beach”.
In 1932, two women wearing brightly coloured pyjamas caused a stir on Brighton seafront as they promenaded while smoking pipes.
“Throughout the 1930 s the styles spread further and could be seen lining the beaches of Britain, yet trousers for women remained somewhat taboo outside of the relaxed dress codes of the beach or the privacy of the home until afterward in the century, ” says manner historian Amber Butchart.
Chanel herself discovered this attitude on a visit to Juan-les-Pins. The narrative runs that a doorman rejected her entry to a casino. Its proprietor, Edouard Baudoin, intervened, telling: “Mademoiselle Chanel, you are living proof that one must not be merely dressed, but well-dressed.” The publicity apparently did neither Baudoin or Chanel any harm.
By World War Two, the fad for pyjamas was fading, with the swimsuit overtaking it as the female beach clothing of option. Chanel was again among those at the forefront of its popularisation. The post-war period saw the more revealing bikini take over.
But Robert de Beauplan’s observations are a reminder of the effect pyjamas had on the inter-war world. They dedicated “women an unprecedented looking, more free, cheekier, and its relaxed stance always remains tasteful”, he wrote.
There were simple “classic” versions available, he added, and “more dressed-up” forms, with a lower cut, especially at the back. “It’s the afternoon attire, for visits, tea, dancing and cocktails, ” wrote Beauplan. “There are also night pyjamas, which look like gowns from afar when you assure them in casinos, until you assure the person or persons dance rapidly the fox-trot and then, there’s no mistaking.”
The world of manner has find a resurgence of interest in pyjamas as daywear lately, with some decorators including them in their collections.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Born in 1883 in Saumur, France, she was raised in an orphanage, where she learned to sew “Shes working” as a vocalist, where she picked up the moniker “Coco”, before opening her first clothes shop in 1910 In 1921, she launched Chanel No 5, still one of the world’s best-selling incenses, and later popularised the “little black dress” During the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two, she had an affair with a German officer, moving to Switzerland after antagonisms ended Chanel returned to Paris in the early 1960 s, her fashions once again becoming popular, and succumbed at the Hotel Ritz in 1971