Pajamas were loungewear and sleepwear that consisted of pants and jacket tops. The word derived from two Hindi terms: "pa(y)," for leg, and "jamah," for garment. It entered the English language around 1880 as "pyjamas," after the British colonized India, where Hindi was spoken. Americans adopted the term from the British as "pajamas."
Pajamas for men, women, and children became popular in the United States during the 1920s. For men, they replaced nightshirts, which were one-piece long-sleeved shirts that flowed down to or below the knees. Men's pajamas were loose fitting. The trousers had drawstrings around the waist, or were fastened by a few buttons in the front. The tops were collarless or with a relaxed collar that could remain undone or be buttoned closed. Tops had a line of buttons down the front or were held closed by overlapping the front panels across the chest and tying a sash around the waist. Men's pajamas were made of cotton, silk, or rayon, which then was called artificial silk. Men who wanted warmth against winter nights chose heavyweight cotton flannel pajamas. Although conservative dressers wore solid, drab-colored sleep outfits, many others chose pajamas in stripes
Women envied the comfort of men's pajamas and, in the liberated atmosphere that followed World War I (1914–18), adopted the attire to their own lifestyles. Women wore pajamas for sleeping and also for lounging about the home and the beach. Most women's pajamas were made of flowing fabrics such as silk, satin, chiffon, or rayon. They featured loose, ankle-length pants that hung straight at the bottom or were drawn tight around the ankle by a ribbon or lacing. The waistlines of the pants had drawstrings. Tops were hip-length jackets with varying sleeve lengths. A home sewing pattern sold by the Butterick Publishing Company of Massachusetts offered the seamstress a choice of necklines: rounded, squared, or with a rounded collar. Women's pajamas sometimes were quite stylized, even whimsical. For instance, on occasion they were designed in silk in an Oriental fashion that featured loose, wide sleeves like kimonos, the loose robes worn by Japanese men and women. They were printed colorfully with renderings of Japanese and Chinese objects, such as paper lanterns, geisha (female entertainer) houses, and chopsticks. Children wore pajamas primarily for sleeping. The styles were similar to adult garments.
Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. Boston, MA: Plays, Inc., 1972.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Kimono ]