Pajamas are generally thought to have been introduced to the Western world about 1870, when British colonials, who had adopted them as an alternative to the traditional nightshirt, continued the practice upon their return. By the end of the nineteenth century, the term pajama was being used to describe a two-piece garment: both the pajamas (trousers) and the jacket-styled top worn with them.
By 1902, men's pajamas were widely available alongside more traditional nightshirts and were available in fabrics like flannel and madras and had lost most of their exotic connotations. Pajamas were considered modern and suitable for an active lifestyle. The advertising copy in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue suggested that they were: "Just the thing for traveling, as their appearance admits a greater freedom than the usual kind of nightshirts" (p. 966).
The streamlined, often androgynous fashions during the 1920s helped to popularize the wearing of pajamas by women. While men's pajamas were invariably made of cotton, silk, or flannel, women's examples were often made of brightly printed silk or rayon and trimmed with ribbons and lace. Early examples featured a raised or natural waist with voluminous legs gathered at the ankle in a "Turkish trouser" style, while later examples featured straight legs and dropped waists, a reflection of the 1920s silhouette. Throughout the century, pajamas would continue to reflect the fashionable ideal. The 1934 film It Happened One Night, which featured a scene in which Claudette Colbert wears a pair of men's pajamas, helped to popularize the menswear-styled pajama for women.
By the 1940s, women were wearing "shortie" pajamas, which would later develop into the "baby doll" pa-jama. The typical baby-doll pajama consisted of a sleeveless smock-style top with a frill at the hem, and balloon panties frilled at the leg openings. By the mid-1960s, baby-doll pajamas were standard summer nightwear for millions of girls and women.
With the popularity of unisex styling during the 1970s, pajamas were often menswear inspired. Tailored satin pajamas had been popular since the 1920s but were rediscovered during this period by both men and women. In this decade, ethnic styles based on the traditional dress of Vietnam and China were worn as antifashion and a statement about the wearer's political views. This trend toward unisex and ethnic remains to this day and is particularly apparent in women's fashions, where the division between dress and undress has become blurred.
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