Tuesday, 9 April 2013

1930s Fashion History & Inspiration - Beach and Lounging Pyjamas

A few weeks ago I posted a photo of orange and blue oriental print dress pyjamas, which I loved, and inspired me to find more, as in my post last Friday.  Today, as it's time for a history post, a little look at how pyjamas, or pajamas, came to be considered fashion.
1926.backless velvet halterneck one piece outfit with embroidered harem pants

During the 1920s Chanel and Vionnet had promoted silky, luxe pyjamas as evening wear to wear in private, and   Paul Poiret promoted then as avant garde dress, known as harem pants.  Only the brave woman would wear them!

By the late 1920's pyjamas appeared outside the bedroom as swimsuit cover-ups on the beaches and boats of the French Riviera, and then on the beaches (and streets)of Britain.

England, 1930s

Beach pajamas in Monte Carlo, as seen on an early 1930s post card.

They soon became a double-duty garment for the relaxed resort lifestyle - could you could wear them on the beach and then drift on to a cocktail party. 
In 1931, Vogue magazine declared, "A woman may and does wear pyjamas to quite formal dinners in her own house, to other people's dinners in town and country if you know them well and the more iconoclastic members of the female sex even wear them to the theatre."

Alongside fall/winter and spring/summer fashions, resort wear became a fifth "season" for which garments were designed. Resort wear was, and still is, loosely defined, characterized largely by its bright colours, patterns and suitability for warm climates, often near the water, conjuring up images of beaches, sun and sand.

"Women Play Bowls A bowls match with participants wearing the latest fashion in beach pyjamas, England, 1935."

Beach pyjamas featured in a German fashion magazine in 1931 as well.

And in typical German style, like Burda magazine today, even children wore them.

For women who aspired to a resort lifestyle but didn't have the necessary means or leisure, pyjamas could be worn for entertaining or relaxing at home, hence the term 'lounge pyjama's.  Often beach or lounge pyjamas were two-piece ensembles, sometimes with a matching jacket, but there were also one piece versions.

Early 30s silk lounging pyjamas


According to period fashion illustrations, beach/lounge pyjamas were similar in appearance to sleeping pyjamas, with wide legs,  and sometimes, as in the ad above, they were advertised as day and beach wear - great for those girls who partied all night! Usually lace or silk satin indicated night-time wear, especially plain colours, while fabrics like  linen, cotton or silk shantung (or the rayon equivalents)  were used for day lounging and beach pyjamas. Women of all ages, and shapes, wore beach pyjamas.

Juan les Pins 1930

In 1929 movie fashion designer Gilbert Adrian dressed Greta Garbo in a striped pyjama ensemble in the film The Single Standard. 
Costume designer Adrian with Greta Garbo in his design,
on the set of The Single Standard.
Adrian also designed pyjamas for Joan Crawford's flapper trilogy of 'Our Modern Maidens', 'Our Dancing Daughters' and 'Our Blushing Brides'. Movies and movie stars did more to influence fashion in the 30s and 40s than Vogue magazine, as they were seen by such a large audience. 

Crawford in Pyjamas, Our Modern Maidens, 1929
Warner Brothers designer Orry-Kelly also like beach pyjamas.  Here is Joan Blondell in beach pyjamas he designed, in the early 1930's. Bette Davis is in the swimsuit.

Many picture goers, especially in the 30s, had no hope of being able to purchase a pair of designer pyjamas  but they could of course sew their own.
1930s pyjama pattern
1931 McCall 6432 Ladies Beach Pyjamas
There are reproduction patterns available if you want to sew yourself a pair, such as this 1933 one from Mrs Depew Vintage. I love the sleeves.

1933 reproduction
Lounging pyjamas saw a bit of a resurgence in the 60s and 70s, and there have been some more recent interpretations as well.

House of Givenchy  1970
Carolina Herrera, fall 2013
Bill Blass 30s inspired linen beach PJs

Our summer is almost over, but I would love a pair for next Summer. What about you?

And of course, more images on tumblr - and I have just put a badge for instagram, if you want to follow me. usually the posts are more personal, with lots of photos of the beach and kids. if your on instagram, please let me know in the comments, and I will follow you too .

Deb xx


  1. I LOVE, love, love this post! Thanks so much for mentioning my pattern, by the way. I'm crazy about the beach pajama, though I'm not sure if I could pull off the look. Thanks for putting together such a great collection of eye candy for us!

    1. Thank you Anna - and I love your patterns!

  2. Stellar post and look back at a garment which (I find at least) it's rather surprising didn't become more a long-term fashion mainstay. I rarely sport pre-1940s fashions myself (love them to bits though of course, don't get me wrong), but with each passing summer, I find myself thinking that I really do need a pair of awesome 30s beach pajamas (especially because my town has not one, but two, lakes with large beaches at both).

    ♥ Jessica

    1. You always look stunning Jessica, and I am sure pyjamas would great on you. I intend to make some for next Summer here - they will make a nice change from sarongs!

  3. These are marvelous!! I agree with the above - you capture the unique and for me that is real style!! They are all covered in the latest trends, they create them and that's the marvel of fashion, the creation!! Not just seeing what's trendy and following it. The girl in the third picture is wonderful, have spotted her in other places, no idea who she is, but I just love her!!Marvelous shots!! Xx

    kids pyjamas


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