Your bedroom should be a relaxing sanctuary. The pillow you rest your head on has to support and relieve your neck. Your mattress should provide the right foundation for comfortable nightly hibernation. And your bedding—changed seasonally—creates an environment that helps you sleep soundly through the night.
Just like home decor, our wardrobes serve a practical purpose and have become a form of expression. The outfits we wear on the job are suited to the work that we do. When it’s time to hit the gym, we change into breathable and absorbent sportswear. And, at the end of the day, we slip into something more comfortable. Putting on a cozy pair of PJs or a favorite nightgown can shift our mindset and help us ease into deep and refreshing sleep.
But when and why did people even begin donning specific nighttime attire? Let’s take a peek at what we've been wearing to sleep over the centuries!
While nightgowns, nightshirts, and the like take different forms in historical accounts, the word pajamas has its origins in India. Dedicated sleepwear was nonexistent for many years: people either slept in the nude or in (some variation of) their daytime clothing. The Southern European dressing gown or nightgown first gained global popularity in the sixteenth century. Back then it was most commonly made of linen because of the fabric’s thermoregulating quality—helping to keep you cool during summer and warm during winter. Early nightgowns were more practical, lacking trimmings of lace or other extravagances, and were not form-fitting (hiding a woman’s curves) in order to uphold the moral values of the time.
Men’s nightshirts also originally resembled the female nightgown. In the late seventeenth century, however, guys in Europe began wearing adaptations of the Southern and Western Asian style harem pants—and the “pajama” was born. As women continued wearing night dresses, these too became more tailored and stylish by the beginning of the 1800s.
Opulently decorated nightgowns and robes made of silk no longer exclusively served comfortable sleep—they became an expression of social status and prestige. The wealthy upper class wanted to go to bed luxuriously appareled. With the growing trend in night-time fashion, the appearance of the male “pajama suits” also became more lavish. Elegant smoking jackets and other accessories made of decorative fabrics were worn with long pants.
Today we have more luxury of choice about whether to wear pajamas, underwear, or just our birthday suit to bed. Generally this decision is a question of individual taste and comfort. But, one fact remains: experts advocate for evening attire that is breathable and loose enough to promote a healthy and comfortable night’s rest.
Whatever you slip into or out of tonight, take a moment to make sure your bedroom has all the trappings for a cozy slumber. And enjoy sweet dreams.