The History of Pajamas Today, men and women commonly wear pajamas in order to be more comfortable sleeping or to lounge around the house. They can be a one-piece outfit or consist of two pieces, but they are usually characterized by loose-fitting pants or shorts of various designs. Traditionally, pajamas are seen as a practical type of clothing, but there is also a fashion-forward and exotic element to the pajama industry.


The word "pajamas" originates from the Hindi words "pae jama" which means literally leg clothing. This derivation is traced back to the time of the Ottoman Empire which was founded at the end of the 13th Century. Today, the word is also abbreviated "PJs" in the vernacular of some western cultures. Pajamas were originally loose pairs of trousers that were tied at the waist with a cord or drawstring. They were originally worn by men and women in the Middle East and Asia. Pajamas were traditionally either tight-fitting on the legs or loose around the waist down to the knees and tight around the ankles. The top portion of the outfit was usually a long tunic that would extend down to the knees.

Migration to Western Civilization

Pajamas made their way into the culture of Western Civilization after Europeans visited Asian and Middle Eastern countries and brought them home as exotic lounge clothing. In the 17th Century, these garments were seen as a mark of status. They did not become mainstream in western culture until the 20th Century. It is believed that pajamas were introduced to the West around the year 1870. British colonists wore the garments as an alternative to the traditional nightshirt. They continued this practice when they returned home. The term "pajama" began to become a mainstream term by the end of the 19th Century in reference to a two-piece garment that consisted of comfortable trousers that were worn with a jacket-styled top. Men's pajamas became widely-available from various retailers by 1902 along with other traditional nighttime apparel such as flannel shirts and madras, so they began to lose their exotic connotation at the beginning of the 20th Century. At that time, the garments were seen as appropriate for active lifestyles. They were advertised in the iconic Sears Catalogue as ideal for traveling because they provided greater freedom than other types of nightshirts.

Evolution of designs

In the 1920s, the fashions were more streamlined and androgynous, so the pajama fit well into this trend. During this time, the garments became more popular with women. While men's pajamas tended to be made of flannel or cotton, women's pajamas were usually designed with brighter colors and patterns on silk or satin. Women's pajamas were also adorned with lace and ribbons for a more feminine and beautiful aesthetic. Early examples of women's pajamas had a waistline that was raised or at a natural level with pant legs that were overly large at the ankle in what was called a "Turkish trouser" design. Pajamas in the 1920s had a lower waist with straight legs that were indicative of the 1920s style. As the 20th Century progressed, pajama styles continued to reflect the aesthetics of each decade.


The movie It Happened One Night, released in 1934, helped to further popularize pajamas because it featured a famous actress wearing a pair of men's pajamas in a memorable scene. This popularized the concept of women wearing a male-style pajama. By the time the 1940s arrived, the "shortie" pajama was in fashion, and this evolved into the well-known "baby doll" pajama. Baby doll pajamas are usually smock-style sleeveless tops with a frill at the bottom of the shirt. These are paired with loose-fitting panties that are frilled at the leg openings. These garments were worn by millions of women by the time the 1960s came around. The 1970s saw the return of more androgynous clothing styles, so women's pajamas started to become more menswear-inspired. A return of satin tailored pajamas was seen, which had become mainstream in the 1920s and rediscovered in the 70s. This style became popular with both women and men in this decade. The 1970s was a time of anarchy and anti-patriotism, so some exotic styles from China and Vietnam became fashionable. A trend of exotic and unisex became prevalent in the pajama industry, and it is still influencing current designs. These styles are more evident in women's fashions than in men's. This could be due to the co-mingling of elements of being dressed and undressed simultaneously in women's fashion.

Pajamas in fashion

The blur between dressed and undressed in women's fashion dates back to the 18th Century with an adaptation of male-inspired pajama-like trousers. However, these garments were viewed as the realm of costumes, actresses and prostitutes rather than respectable fashion. A 19th-Century feminist, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, wore voluminous pajama trousers out of the house along with a knee-length skirt as an alternative to mainstream fashion. Society responded very negatively to the display, and the "bloomer costume" failed to catch on as a fashion trend, although it did make headlines. Pajamas became a staple in fashionable clothing during the avant-garde era of the early Twentieth Century. They were promoted by designers as an alternative to the tea gown, and they were worn during the day and evening beginning in 1911. The French fashion industry figure Paul Poiret played an important role in the acceptance of pajamas as a fashion garment. The famous designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel helped popularize beach pajamas that women wore when walking on the boardwalk or by the seaside in the 1920s. By the end of the 1920s, these garments became very acceptable for the mainstream female population. Evening pajamas that were worn for casual dining at home were also fashionable in this decade. These garments emerged again in the 1960s when they were called "palazzo pajamas" which were created by the Roman designer Irene Galitzine. Today, the pajama is a staple for modern fashions, and they continue to be popularized by prominent designers such as Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren.