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The Enduring Appeal of Pajama Dressing

Pajama dressing has become an unlikely but enduring high fashion trend with several years now under its belt and little sign of slowing down. BoF reports.
Caroline Sieber in Louis Vuitton pajamas | Source: Phil Oh/Streetpeeper
  • Tommye Fitzpatrick

NEW YORK, United States — Not long ago, the practice of wearing pajamas during the day was largely confined to college campuses or the exceptional lifestyles of Hugh Hefner and Julian Schnabel. No longer. Whether it's a piped silk top, roomy drawstring pants, or a combination of the two, "pajama dressing" has become an unlikely but enduring high fashion trend with half a decade's worth of staying power now under its belt and little sign of waning.

Indeed, designer Marc Jacobs — whose three Fall 2013 shows (for his signature collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Louis Vuitton) were all replete with silk sleepwear sets — is so taken with look, that he himself wore a different pair of pajamas for each show's runway bow. Meanwhile, looking forward to Resort 2014, several fashion houses, from Rochas to Gucci, have incorporated echoes of pajama pieces. And on the men's side, the Spring 2014 offerings from Haider Ackermann, Dries van Noten and Stefano Pilati's collection for Ermenegildo Zegna were populated with lounge-inspired, silk jacquard silhouettes.

Such is the continuing traction of the pajama trend that it has led to the launch of several labels largely dedicated to the pajama look, including Piamita, brainchild of W magazine's Karla Martinez and designer Cecilia de Sola, and the recently-introduced Sleepy Jones, started by Andy Spade.

But where did the pajama fascination originate?

Some trace it to Olatz Schnabel, who introduced her namesake pajama collection, Olatz, more than a decade ago, with her now ex-husband — the perpetually pajama-wearing Julian Schnabel — serving as brand ambassador. Andy Spade credits Mr. Schnabel with planting the idea for Sleepy Jones, which debuted this spring. “I was at a party, and Julian Schnabel walked in wearing pajamas,” Spade recalls. “He looked so chic, I thought to myself, could this work? Could other people accept the idea? And I talked to other people, and they said, ‘Yeah.’”

Holli Rogers, fashion director of Net-a-Porter, pinpoints the trend's runway debut at Dolce & Gabbana's Spring 2009 show, held in September 2008, which featured womanly takes on classic men's silk pajamas. "Back then it was subtle," she says. By 2011, pajama dressing had picked up steam, appearing everywhere from Thakoon to Céline. "Women such as [stylist] Caroline Sieber and [ market director] Marina Larroudé really started wearing it top-to-toe," Rogers adds, "and it has since taken off."

“The strength behind the pajama look is the versatility of the styles,” Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director, Barneys New York, points out. “Customers aren’t exclusively buying tops and bottoms as matching sets.” The silhouette is “incredibly flattering and easy to wear for several body types,” Cecilia de Sola, co-founder of Piamita, notes, adding: “We are different things to different customers in a sense. We can either sell to someone that wants to wear the PJ top and bottom for bed, or someone that is a little more fashion-forward, who wants to wear it out. They can use our blouses as layering pieces in winter and as stand-alone pieces in the summer.” In essence, pajama-inspired styles “are easy and multi-functional” for the customer, Tom Mora, senior vice president of women’s design at J.Crew, says.

Plus, the look presents a stylish alternative to the usual closet staples. “The pajama look arrived in a moment when the silk button-down blouse was gaining great momentum,” Ogura notes. “The pajama top [became] a timely update to the silk blouse.” Spade, meanwhile, compares Sleepy Jones’s cotton poplin pajama tops to the “very classic, old-fashioned oxford button-down.”

Liz Giardina, vice president of design for 10 Crosby Derek Lam, which has been turning out sleepwear-inspired pieces since its launch in 2011, notes: “An easy pajama-inspired trouser is more interesting than a pair of jeans.” Rogers adds: “The relaxed silhouette feels so fresh and needed after many years of skinny jeans and pants.”

Comfort is key to the style’s runaway success. “Women want clothes they can put on and feel polished [in] without fuss,” Giardina says. “It gives the customer a different attitude to buy — a chic way to look relaxed and also dressed up.” And, as Mora puts it: “Who doesn't feel relaxed in their PJs?”

Attention to detail and a tailored fit is also essential — to prevent the wearer “feeling like they rolled out of bed and onto the street,” de Sola notes. To that end, Sleepy Jones “made the buttons like a shirt button and the collar more like a shirt collar,” Spade says. As far as styling, “pair [the pajama look] with something more structured in order to still look put together,” Mora suggests. “For example, a PJ top with a tailored pant or PJ set with stilettos.”

Both retailers and customers seem to be responding best to special touches or exclusive prints. Barneys commissioned New York-based label Sea to design a few exclusive patterned pajama styles, Ogura confirms. Piamita worked with The Webster boutique in Miami on exclusive prints "which have been incredibly successful," co-founder Karla Martinez de Salas noted. And for Sleepy Jones, "basic colors haven't done as well for us as the special prints," Spade says. "[Customers are] definitely looking for something more special."

As pajama pieces continue to sell — "very well," designer Thakoon Panichgul notes — the look has evolved. "It's definitely moving on from the literal pajama style shapes we have seen previously to a little more structure and substance, making it more acceptable as daywear," Rogers notes. "The shapes are relaxed yet smarter and more flattering than before. The tops are becoming jackets — soft and more fluid. The pants have either become slimmer and cropped just above the ankle or more traditional with a wide leg and pajama detail such as piping at the hemline."

“It's more about the ease of the silhouette, the nonchalant kind of slouch,” Panichgul notes. ”Just a nuance of pajama inspiration, not doing the look outright.” At 10 Crosby Derek Lam, “our pajama dressing has evolved from a classic men’s inspired pajama to a silk-printed track pant and matching sweatshirt,” Giardina says.

Needless to say, “the trend does not seem to be going away,” Giardina continues. Rogers agrees: “It’s showing no signs of fading just yet. Rather than waning, I would actually say it’s becoming more prominent.”

Read more trend pieces by The Business of Fashion:

The Rise of the Fashion Sweatshirt

On the Wings of Céline

As the Print Trend Peaks, Designers Evolve

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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
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