Fashionable bedtime stories: Pyjamas have their moment

Usually consigned to the bedroom, pyjamas are having their moment in the sun thanks to the attentions of Dolce & Gabbana. Susannah Frankel reports on a sleep sensation

Wee Willie Winkie might seem like an unlikely fashion icon but stranger things have happened in this, amongst the strangest of all possible worlds.

And so just when many of the most high-profile designers are fixated on power-dressing - think shoulder-pads so wide they barely fit through the door, and masculine tailoring courtesy of everyone from Stella McCartney to Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci – others have taken the opposite route entirely. Loungewear may be an unfortunate term but an apposite one given the current economic climate. What, after all, is the point of investing in a suit, say, that might not look out of place on Wall Street circa American Psycho when there’s no office to go to in the first place? Workwear – in any form whatsoever – seems considerably less relevant than it has done for many seasons now, and for very good reason.

Enter pyjamas in all their glory – quite the easiest, and one of the most forgiving, looks of the spring / summer season. At Marni they are striped, schoolboy style, baggy and with studiously odd proportions – think long, narrow-shouldered jackets and cropped peg-leg trousers. At Bottega Veneta there are more stripes – and even odder proportions – meaning jackets are so shrunken they strain at the fastenings, and trousers are wide even by the today’s often clownish standards.

At Jean-Paul Gaultier, striped pyjama bottoms that are just as long and leggy as might be expected of this designer (as opposed to the baggy old wincyette ones that might be expected of, well, M&S) are worn with layered and diaphanous chiffon robes or, if madame would prefer to lose the legs, a canary yellow striped silk wrap (or should that be peignoir) is a fine boudoir-inspired alternative.

At Lanvin, the tuxedo has morphed into a pyjama and has never looked so relaxed, so coolly déshabille – soft, sumptuous and a fine example of having the best of both worlds if ever there was one. Power pyjamas, perhaps.

The award for the designer pyjamas de jour, however, goes to Dolce & Gabbana. In fact, their summer collection is even named after them. Pigiama Barrocco it is called and their take on classic gentleman’s silk pyjamas in rich silks, spotted or striped and trimmed with clean white piping are a lovely thing to behold. These are designed to be worn not with a smelly old pair of slippers, please, and certainly not with bed socks but with vertiginous, platform-soled or wedge-heeled sandals in a co-ordinated colour or, failing that, gold.

“We imagined this aristocratic woman who lives in Sicily,” the designers told The Independent earlier this year, before going on to explain that their principle source of inspiration was Luchino Visconti’s classic The Leopard. “She comes across jewellery and ribbons that symbolise bits and pieces of life and different traditions,” and sure enough, pyjama-clad models wore just such trinkets and baubles in chignons that spoke of an older and better age. Said aristo clearly thinks nothing of borrowing her husband/lover/father/grandfather’s well-worn and well-loved pyjamas too, wearing them out for a stroll or for dinner. And why not? She looks nothing short of heavenly when she does so.

In fact, fashion’s love affair with pyjamas began this time last year and came courtesy of Miuccia Prada. (What doesn’t?) In that instance, the first lady of Italian fashion said that she was thinking about women’s darkest imaginings, the stuff of their deepest fantasies and, of course, while steeped in these she would do well to be dressed as best befits a beautiful dreamer – in silk pyjamas, this time with an Orientalist feel.

And après Prada, le deluge. Both in mens- and womenswear, pyjamas became the thing to see and be seen wearing during the summer months in particular, and not necessarily in bed.

A little history. The word “pyjama” traces its etymological origin to the Persian word payjama meaning “leg garment”. It was first incorporated into English from Hindustani. In the 17th century, British men wore pyjamas as casual attire while relaxing at home and they soon gained ground in the West during the colonial era, when they became increasingly popular as sleepwear, with designs inspired from traditional Indian and Persian garments.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the sirens of the silver screen – think Ginger Rogers in silver satin and, of course, Doris Day in The Pajama Game resplendent in men’s cotton sleepwear printed with hearts – wore house pyjamas just as they did turbans and suitably erotic and exotic they looked for it.

From thereon in, however, pyjamas have mostly been the preserve of the bedroom – and, of course, the odd trip to the newsagents accompanied by an overcoat, of a hungover Sunday.

For Dolce & Gabbana, now as always, the juxtaposition between the masculine and feminine – corsetry and pin-striped suiting or bra tops and priest coats – has always been an integral part of the story. Now, in particular during these more ascetic times, dressing with a more masculine bent appears subtly, as opposed to overtly, erotic and thus thoroughly in keeping with these more sombre times. The type of in-your-face glamorous body-conscious aesthetic beloved of WAG culture, and soapstars at award ceremonies in particular, has by now well and truly lost its gloss, as A-listers and Z-listers alike have rolled up their bandage dresses.

If pyjama dressing seems like the safest of all options given a fashion world still famed at times for fascistic tendencies, it is perhaps worth pointing out that they are not without their downside.

Wearing pyjamas outside the house had distinctly perilous consequences for students at the University of Sheffield at least. Time was, these young and fancy free souls were, if anything, urged by their student union to take part in an annual fund-raising event known none-too-poetically as a Pyjama Jump. This, basically, was one almighty, sleepwear-clad pub crawl where men habitually wore nighties and women wore the (pyjama) trousers. However, in 1997 the event was banned, following the hospitalisation of several participants found unconscious (drunk in a ditch, perhaps?) and hypothermic. Hmmm. Pyjamas. Whoever said high heels were a risky business?

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