Fashion industry wants to take pyjamas out of the bedroom, but world remains mostly indifferent
Despite more than a decade of trying and endless celebrity endorsements, designers haven’t managed to get the public to embrace the idea of pyjamas as streetwear – although in China pyjamas have long been worn outside
Designers really want to turn fancy pyjamas into glamorous streetwear. The average shopper seems unconvinced.
Yet the fashion industry will not let this idea go, despite consumer reluctance to wear a pair of silk pyjamas to a cocktail party. Indeed, in an uncharacteristic display of independence, confidence and adherence to civility, consumers have been immune to the concept. They’ve ignored the celebrity endorsements and the cachet of designer labels.
Mind you, designers are not touting basic cotton PJs, flannel onesies or even filmy nightgowns. They want you to wear extremely fancy silk pyjamas and dressing gowns – the sort that you might sleep in, if you had a manservant dressing your bed in Pratesi sheets and Hermès throws. The point of these pyjamas, however, is not sleep. They are intended to be glammed up with chic shoes and a handbag, a slash of red lipstick and a significant amount of chutzpah. Perhaps a robe top over trousers and a dress shirt. You’re supposed to wear this look to a holiday party. Or celebratory dinner. Or to the mall.
Further down the fashion food chain, Victoria’s Secret is selling “after hours satin pyjamas”. And J. Crew has a pyjama shirt paired with jeans as well as a pyjama jumpsuit styled with one of its black Regency blazers and black flats.
To be clear, these are not pyjama-style garments, nor trousers that simply borrow the loose fit and drape of sleepwear. Ostensibly, these are pyjamas, promoted for both men and women. Indeed, in recent years, entire brands have been born solely to cater to the idea that people should wear fancy pyjamas on the street. The Italian brand F.R.S. (both the founder’s initials and an abbreviation of “for restless sleepers”) uses fabrics, patterns and rich colours that call to mind life in a Medici palazzo. Piamita was founded by two fashion editors in 2011 with fashion pyjamas as its early focus. They ooze charm.
All of these garments have luxurious fabrics, elaborate patterns, saturated colours an comfortable silhouettes. They are, in fact, quite handsome. But they look precisely like what they, in fact, are: pyjamas.
And they are thriving – within the fashion ecosystem, anyway. In the spring, Dolce & Gabbana hosted a “pyjama party” in Los Angeles, where guests Naomi Campbell and Jessica Alba were decked out in pyjamas. The following month the brand hosted a similar party in China, this time at its flagship store in Plaza 66, Shanghai, where local and overseas celebrities including Alba helped celebrate its sleepwear capsule collection
The Hollywood Reporter’s Booth Moore recalls the model Gigi Hadid wearing a pyjama jumpsuit on the red carpet. Moore has also seen the look at fashion-y Los Angeles parties. She even owns a lovely pyjama shirt, purchased from a shop in Paris. But have any of these looks really been spotted in the wild?
The fashion industry’s fascination goes back more than a decade. In the Prada 2002 spring collection, the designer included metallic gold shirts cut precisely like a pyjama top and shorts that looked like the lower half of a pyjama set. And Dolce & Gabbana have for years included a few pyjama looks in their runway shows.
The trend is a relatively new one in the world of runway fashion when compared with China. Chinese people, especially the elderly, have been wearing pyjamas out onto the street for decades, but more out of convenience and comfort than to show off specific styles. You can see some very bright and entertaining prints today if you go out for a stroll in certain neighbourhoods of Shanghai and Beijing. Despite government efforts to curb the practice during the Shanghai Expo and the Beijing Olympics, citizens who go outdoors in pyjamas, whether checked, striped, teddy bear or Hello Kitty themed, are still thankfully a common sight in many Chinese cities.
But the trend has picked up momentum outside China in the last few seasons. “All the cool fashion editors started wearing pyjamas,” says Joseph Errico, fashion director of Nylon, a fashion and culture magazine based in New York. They wore them with their kangaroo fur lined Gucci slides. They tossed Céline coats over their pyjama-clad shoulders.
And there is more to come in the season the industry calls pre-fall, notes Roopal Patel, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “I don’t think pyjama dressing is going away any time soon,” she says.
There is a certain logic to it. Remember Kate Moss in her sexy Calvin Klein slip dress? Women wear camisoles as shirts and don’t mind showing off an especially sexy or frilly bra. And folks delight in boarding aeroplane or heading to brunch in sweatpants, leggings and T-shirts that make up in comfort what they lack in style.
Pyjamas, however, are intimate without the sex appeal. They are all comfort without even the pretence of function. There was a period when rebellious teenagers or overtaxed parents wore their jersey or flannel sleepwear out to coffee shops or the dog park. This iteration of pyjamas exuded laziness. They were a declaration of surrender – or, at their silky best, an affectation. (See: Hugh Hefner, Julian Schnabel.)
Fashion pyjamas are more complicated. They require a certain level of fashion savvy – to make it clear that the look was intentional, not happenstance. That requires work. Selena Gomez was recently photographed wearing pyjamas on a shopping trip. Her hair was in a low ponytail; she wore bright red lipstick and black stiletto pumps. She looked fashionable, but she did not look comfortable.
Still, Patel is committed to fashion pyjamas. She says they have sparked more interest in for-the-bedroom pyjamas from snazzy brands such as Fleur du Mal. And, yes, people really are incorporating them into their everyday lifestyle. Well, fashion people.
Beware of fashion people. But if you cannot resist their siren song, Patel offers this: “Layer a pyjama top under a blazer with jeans and a little slipper or loafer,” she says. “Try a striped pyjama bottom with a solid top to give it balance.
“It’s really about having fun,” she says. Whether you like it or not.
Additional reporting by Jing Zhang.