Suddenly, pajamas. Thronging social media feeds. Cresting wish lists. Dominating pandemic pod chatter. Clotting holiday catalogues, catalogues being back with a vengeance. Buy me, they entreat. Live your best quarantined life in us.
After this exhausting, impossible, improbable year, why wouldn’t we take to bed – and bedclothes? Our winter forecast calls for sleepwear. Pajamas are one stop past athleisure, our 2020 WFH uniform. They are not so much a symbol of abandoning the charade of responsible adulthood as surrendering to our confinement. They’re sartorial comfort food.
A spike in covid-19 cases, a second lockdown, the winter and the holidays have brought us to this moment swaddled in cotton poplin and buttery knits.
Mariela Rovito has been big into pajamas since 1996, when she co-founded Eberjey sleepwear. A dozen years later, the company had its eureka moment with the Gisele, a variation on the century-old British men’s pajama. Eberjey’s version features a button-down top with notch collar and piping, a generous pant with elastic waist, both fashioned from soft jersey. It quickly became the cash cow of the business. In 2018, Eberjey was touched by an Oprah, who declared the $120 Gisele her favorite and was later videoed serving shots at a grown-up pajama party sporting a black pair.
But nothing has fueled business like a housebound nation. So far, Eberjey’s sales have spiked more than 300 percent this fourth quarter over last year. “In many ways, the virus has forced us to look inward,” says Rovito by phone, wearing a black Gisele bottom with a knit top as work attire. “The silver lining is a time shift – we’re no longer commuting – a gift of time that many of us welcome. We’re in need of some comfort, a little bit of extra me-time.”
Hard times call for soft clothing. “We are having a pajama moment,” says Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence for WGSN, the global trend forecaster, adding: “We’re wanting to invest more in the home and what we wear there. If we’re in all day, the value of what we wear changes, and their significance.”
And, so, the rise of “luxury pajamas,” for those people who are fortunate enough to afford them and work from home, fortunate being a relative term in a year when everything is relative. We are all in the sisterhood of the non-traveling pants.
Nobody needs pajamas. A worn T-shirt, toasty socks, a slab of blankets, and you’re good. But nobody needs jewelry, either. Pajamas are about solace and desire. They offer the gift of appearing far more put together than we actually are. We may be an emotional mess but at least our PJs match.
Last month’s pajama sales were 200 percent higher than in November 2019, according to Adobe Analytics. This followed April’s 143 percent spike over last yearduring the first pandemic lockdown. Sleepwear, along with sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks and something classified as “active bottoms” – collectively deemed “comfy clothing” – are projected to constitute almost a third of all fourth-quarter apparel sales, reports the market research firm NPD. “Clothing websites are big on ‘cozy’ and ‘comfort,’ ” says NPD analyst Marie Rugolo. “It’s all about warmth and togetherness.”
Many pajamas purchased this month will be red. Some will be fueled by the performative need to share family pix in matching Christmas sleepwear on social media, the 21st-century visual take on the braggy holiday letter, throwing in the pooch for good measure. This trend of the past decade can be pinned on YouTube music videos and big promotional pushes by Target, Pajamagram and other companies that deviously devised a way to quadruple sales of apparel that has a preposterously brief wear life.
Some years ago, no one is sure of the date, the nightgown died. “Nightgowns are too revealing. It feels naked somehow,” says Drexel University fashion historian Clare Sauro. “The mind-set is that it’s old-fashioned and fussy and seems formal.” Largely confined to the bedroom, the nightgown doesn’t work for work or when answering the door for deliveries, a notion mentioned constantly by pajama purveyors.
During the pandemic, certainly during colder months, many women are wearing pants, with skirts and dresses left to molt in closets. “We have seen dresses as a category become less important,” says Fashion Institute of Technology’s Shawn Grain Carter. “The dress has been jettisoned, along with the nightgown.” The lifestyle brand Hill House Home had a hit this year with the $125 Nap Dress, an insistently feminine gown with smocked bodice and puff sleeves, designed for lounging, posing sullenly in a rowboat on Instagram, the very attire for a “Mad Men” fainting couch. But it appears to be the last thing you’d want to sleep or Zoom in.
Pajamas may be trending but they are rarely trendy, which is part of their allure. At a time when many of us have eschewed buttons in day attire, we still wear them to bed. “The silhouette doesn’t change. It was the easiest category for me to design,” says Jessica Krupa, who teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has created intimates and sleepwear for 20 years. “When I was at Victoria’s Secret, every time we did a new style, like a romper, it never sold at big volume. This aesthetic just keeps winning.” Change in pajama design is so tectonic that the addition of pant pockets represents a radical shift.
Pajamas are another vestige of British colonial rule, repurposed from India and adopted as early as the 17th century by the original peacocks, European men. Women started wearing pajamas in the early 20th century, and not merely to sleep but out and about. There were formal hostess pajamas and beach pajamas worn on the Riviera and Claudette Colbert’s fetching lounging pajamas in 1934’s “It Happened One Night.” Pajamas were modern, freeing women from corsets and other fiendish constraints. They are also the rare article of clothing to inspire a Broadway musical, 1954’s “The Pajama Game,” which gave the world the risible earworm “Hernando’s Hideaway,” as well as a plot highlighting the power of unions and a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.
Pajamas forgive you your daily transgressions and hourly bread. They’re popular as gifts because there’s no need to know the recipient’s exact measurements. They’re the antithesis of skinny jeans, looking largely the same on everyone.
Change arrives in fabric and prints, often the wilder the better. They are tame in cut, frequently expressive in pattern. “People will wear a whimsical, extravagant print in their own home that they would never outside,” says Holland Felts, Bedhead Pajamas’ vice president of sales. The company releases monthly “new capsules” of such prints as “Cheers!” and “Let’s play Monopoly.” Mindy Kaling has been the company’s unofficial poster child, sporting their pajamas on her namesake show and posing in matching ones with her children on Instagram.
Amy Voloshin, who launched Printfresh in 2019, says her bestseller is the $132 Bagheera, a print featuring leopards in the wild, produced in India and available in four colors. “It was the right product at the right time. Everybody’s at home. There’s such a demand.” Business is up 500 percent over last year. Voloshin recently signed a deal to produce pajamas for Anthropologie.
We’re home for the holidays, and every other day. For next spring and summer, trend forecaster Hall sees the desire for comfy clothing continuing, with more feminine details slipping into our apparel, dance influences and delicate flourishes. Once we’ve embraced a world of soft clothing, she doesn’t see us fully returning to our old tailored ways. “We’ve moved to more casual clothes, pajamas being a part of it,” Hall says. “That has shifted for forever.”