Byline: Julie Logan
Long the dusk-’til-dawn bailiwick of kids and grandads, jazzed-up pajamas are showing up on fashion followers everywhere — and not just at bedtime. The latest pj crop is working overtime, often outside the house for late night jaunts to the grocery store and even to school, where trendy teens have started sporting the look. In fact, Peter Burke, president of P.J. Salvage in Irvine, Calif., calls pj’s “24-hour fashion.”
Under the rubric “lounge,” retailers and contemporary designers are doing for pj’s what Juicy Couture and others have done for the zippered sweatsuit: glamming it up a little — but not too much — by lowering the rise and slimming the hip; adding a bit of kick in the marketing and increasing the kitsch factor with novelty prints.
Pop culture’s iconic sleepwear imagery goes back a long time: Claudette Colbert in adorably oversized cotton men’s pajamas sparring with Clark Gable in the 1934 film “It Happened One Night, pouty Carroll Baker in the 1956 film “Baby Doll” wearing a sexy little baby-doll nightie, and Playboy pioneer Hugh Hefner, every bit the uber-bachelor in wine colored satin pj’s.
But none of those hold a candle to what’s going on today. With the cast of “Friends” and Calista Flockhart’s Ally McBeal character leading the pack, everywhere you look, there’s another pajama-clad television, movie or music celeb looking like she’s headed straight for the sofa.
An offshoot of lingerie and intimate apparel, the traditional notion of loungewear has always been about flow and drape, not to mention comfort. Naughty Twenties flappers took to sneaking hooch (or worse) in bias-cut chinoiserie and Japanese-inspired ensembles. Swingin’ Sixties bell-bottomed Scarsdale housewives did their thing in hostess pajamas and Pucci-printed caftans. And from the Twenties to the Seventies, gaggles of starlets lolled around in negligees and peignoir sets eating bonbons.
By the Eighties, though, as a more active aesthetic took hold and busier lifestyles for women became a reality, loungewear took on a rather cheesy image. That is until clubland’s subsequent rediscovery of all things Rat Pack and hepcat. With its newly minted retro-hip flavor, “lounge” and all it implied became fair game for designers. Suddenly, the population wanted to kick back at home after work and look cool doing it. Or maybe they never left home to go to the office, but still wanted to be able to meet the FedEx man looking half-decent.
Heeding this mid-Nineties zeitgeist, West Coast-based contemporary companies such as Loveletters Loungewear and Lounge Act sprang up, while others such as P.J. Salvage shifted emphasis. Today’s quintessential lounge style — slim tank or T-shirt paired with a baggier bottom — is a natural among young women who’ve adopted the look with enthusiasm. This isn’t to say the loungewear look is junior-driven, however. In fact, it cuts across all ages and price points. Teens and tweens may love that Britney Spears wears jammie bottoms, but their boomer parents appreciate the forgiving drawstring and elastic waistbands.
Novelty prints are a staple of the youth pj’s scene. But fun, vibrant prints are critical to the grown-up lounge business, as well. Toile, hearts, cowboys, leopard, cartoon illustrations, florals and tropical prints are important motifs this summer and fall. Old Navy, for example, offers Christmas-themed pj’s around the holidays. And Target’s offerings include tops and bottoms covered with the logos of popular candies, including Sugar Daddies and Sweet Tarts.