Pajamas have been popular for centuries as a comfortable set of apparel to wear to bed or, occasionally, while lounging around the home. Traditional pajamas most commonly have consisted of loose-fitting pants and button-up jacket tops, although plenty of variations have evolved as new styles developed. While a wide selection of pajama styles is available today, you may find yourself wondering how the classics first caught on. What are the origins of pajamas, and how did they become popular?
Roots in the Ottoman Empire
Some people might not know that the original roots of their favorite pajamas lie all the way back in the Ottoman Empire. Even the name “pajamas” comes from the Hindi terms “pai jama” or “pae jama,” which translates to “leg clothing” in English. True to their name, the original Persian pajamas
consisted of a pair of comfortable slacks held up by a drawstring at the waist. These were usually paired with a loose-fitting, knee-length belted tunic. The original pajama slacks were usually either close-fitting along the entire length of the leg, or snug from the knees down while being roomy and spacious at the top. While most clothing in the Middle East and India was drastically different for men and women
, pajamas like these were universally worn by both sexes and members of all social classes.
Adoption and Popularization by the British
During the 18th and 19th centuries, involvement of the British in India led them to adopt the idea of pajamas for themselves. British colonists saw the Indian sleepwear as highly appealing and perfect to relax in during naps and evening down-time, and quickly adopted them into their own wardrobes. The British introduced the comfortable lounge and sleepwear to Europe and the Western world around the year 1870, with many Englishmen finding that they preferred them to the nightshirts that were most commonly used at the time. While the original Persian pajamas transcended sex, they were primarily used by men in Europe following their introduction to the west. Pajamas were perceived as masculine in their look, and were originally rejected by women in favor of more feminine, flowing nightgowns. During their early use in Western Europe, pajamas were normally reserved for the wealthier members of society, serving as a symbol of refinement and knowledge. A special set of fashionable sleepwear was considered frivolous by the lower classes, but wealthier individuals considered them to be highly desirable as signs of worldliness and culture.
Expanding the Horizons of Sleepwear
During the early 1900’s, a Parisian fashion designer named Paul Poiret decided to break the mold and create a version of silken pajamas to be worn out and about during the daytime. These silken pajama pants were often paired with a stylish jacket to establish them as appropriate daytime wear. These fashionable, comfortable pants contributed largely to the current level of comfort that people around the world feel with wearing pajama bottoms out in public during the day. By the 1920’s, the term “pajamas” had come to describe a pair of slacks and a jacket-style top rather than the original tunics and pants. These more European-style pajamas became exceedingly popular as a casual fashion statement by British men, and were often worn stylishly around the house during the evenings. The elegant pajamas were often paired with a silken dressing gown for added warmth and comfort. Around the same time that pajamas became popular with gentlemen all over Western Europe, they migrated alongside many other trends to American culture as well. As the popularity of pajamas continued to spread, so did its customer base: women saw the appeal in the loose, silken pajamas that men so comfortably donned during the evenings and decided to adopt them as well. The rising appeal of women’s pajamas gained added momentum from French feminist designer Coco Chanel, who proudly modeled in silken pajamas accented by her feminine pearls and pin curls. She made concerted efforts to dissolve the label of masculinity that pajamas had taken on during their spread throughout the Western world, instead presenting them as something to be enjoyed by everyone. Coco Chanel made big waves in the fashion industry and helped reintroduce pajamas back into every wardrobe, no matter the owner’s sex or social status, much like they had been during their early days in the Ottoman Empire.
While pajamas have an extremely fluid place in modern fashion, their use throughout the course of history has certainly undergone its share of evolution. From their original uses in the Ottoman Empire to their widespread use throughout Europe and the rest of the world, pajamas have been beloved by all for centuries and are sure to remain popular in the future.