Children’s Pajamas Then and Now
If you have a child, you’ve probably been involved in pajama wars in one form or another. You want them to wear the flannel two-piece set because it’s getting chilly outside, but they’re stuck on the summer PJs with their favorite cartoon character. Or maybe they just don’t want to get out of that fuzzy pink onesie—even when it’s time to board the bus for school!
(Pixabay / candice_rose)
Pajama wars aside, though, seeing your kids in their favorite PJs tucked into bed and sleeping soundly is pretty gratifying—a moment when you take a deep breath, smile, and feel like everything’s right with the world.
Because pajamas are such a central part of the bedtime and waking routines, most of us take them for granted. But the pajamas we know and love today used to be quite different. Here’s a look at pajamas from their storied past to their present state—with all of their flair, functionality, and variety.
Pajama comes from the Hindi word “pae jama” or “pai jama,” which means leg clothing. The term generally refers to loose-fitting pants that tie at the waist. The first widely used pae jamas can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, though they are also seen in Middle and Far East customs.
In the late 1800s, British colonials took a liking to these trousers and began wearing them with a loose-fitting top in place of the traditional nightshirt. The term pajamas began to be used to refer to not just trousers but to the top-and-bottom ensemble. The Brits explored different fabrics and patterns, and the flexibility and comfort of pajamas quickly spread to other Western nations, including the newly created United States.
While pajamas were mostly the domain of men, by the 1920s, women started ditching their nightshirts for the practical two-piece pajamas. Over time, pajamas started to turn into fashion statements. For women, the long pants were exchanged for short-shorts (“shorty pajamas.”) That ushered in the advent of Baby Doll pajamas in the 1940s, which included short bottoms as well as smock tops with ruffles at the sleeves and hems.
(Pixabay / OpenClipart-Vectors)
“Evening pajamas” caught on in the 1960s. They were designed to be fashionable enough to wear not just to bed but around the house as a sort of casual evening wear. Major fashion designers started gracing catwalks with their newest fashion designs. Fabrics ranged from cotton to rayon to silk. Patterns included leopard print, stripes, polka dots, pop culture images, and more.
As society grew more casual, pajamas started making their way outdoors. Stylish pajama pants could double as activewear, and nobody would bat an eye if they saw you at the local grocery store bagging up fruits and veggies in PJ pants. And teenagers eager for ease and comfort—and maybe just a few more minutes of sleep—made pajama bottoms an acceptable alternative to pants in high schools around the country (except those with strict dress codes, of course).
So where were kids’ pajamas in all of this? Children’s pajamas have increased in variety along with PJs for adults. Nightgowns used to be favored for both girls and boys, but once two-piece sets caught on for adults, they quickly became a practical choice for little ones, too. Now, the options are many, from infant nighties with elastic at the bottom to footed onesies to two-piece pants or short sets that snap together at the waist.
Safety is always a foremost concern when it comes to children’s products, and pajamas are no exception. Remember the baby gowns with drawstrings at the bottom? Those were retired in recent decades due to strangling risks. Today, you’ll see them replaced by knotted gowns or gowns with elastic at the bottom.
Another hot topic in pajama safety for children is flame-resistant fabrics. In the 1940s, some children’s clothing was made out of highly flammable rayon fabrics that would catch fire easily and flash burn. After a number of children were killed when their pajamas ignited, the government intervened with the Flammable Fabrics Act. This required children’s pajamas and other items (car seats, mattresses, etc.) to be made out of flame-resistant fabrics.
Unfortunately, the chemicals added to fabrics to make them impervious to fire were shown to be toxic to children. As a result, these chemicals were abandoned in favor of a couple of options:
- Polyester. Polyester is flame-resistant all on its own, so there’s no need to fortify it with dangerous chemicals. It presents a couple of disadvantages, however. Polyester isn’t necessarily very comfy, so it’s not always the best choice for sleepwear. In addition, too much laundering can actually reduce the fire-resistant properties of some polyester fabrics.
- Snug-fitting pajamas. Tight PJs provide another solution. Loose fabric is more likely to be swept up by flames in the event of a fire, so snug PJs reduce this risk. Also, tight PJs don’t leave much room for oxygen between the skin and the pajama fabric. Since oxygen fuels fires, eliminating its presence is an effective safety precaution. So if you’re wondering why you see more tight pajamas on the market instead of the baggy kind, now you know.
Modern Day Pajama Adventures
Today, you can buy your child most anything to fit their fancy—from nightshirts of yesteryear to zany two-piece sets with witty silk-screened sayings. With each passing year, the options seem to get more creative and innovative. Some pajama sets come with not just house slippers but matching “paw mitts” (like house slippers for the hands with animal claws).
Other pajamas are made of 100% organic cotton, which is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. That way, you can rest easy knowing that your sleepwear isn’t taking a toll on Mother Earth.
There are pajamas made of Merino wool, which is soft to the touch (unlike many other types of wool) but still keeps you warm and toasty in winter. Some pajamas are sold in matching sets so that the whole family can coordinate. And, of course, we’re partial to our Peejamas that are an alternative to disposable diapers. Peejamas pants wick away moisture from bedwetting, but not to the extent that a diaper does. The slight wet sensation helps kids know that they need to get up and use the bathroom, but you don’t end up with a wet bed in the meantime.
It’s a great day and age to be looking for sleepwear for your child. You name it, it’s out there. Pajamas are comfier than ever while also being safe for your child, and many are safe for the environment, too. Where will pajamas be 20 to 30 years from now when your kids are old enough to have children of their own? There’s little doubt that creation and innovation will take them to new levels of comfort, function, and aesthetics.