While you were sleeping: A writer takes the pyjama dressing trend out of the boudoir and into the light of day

Boudoir Trend Olivia Stren
Photography by Emma McIntyre (styling by Eliza Grossman); shot on location at The Chase, Toronto; coat, $3,700, and dress, $2,960, both by Louis Vuitton
Boudoir Trend Olivia Stren
Photography by Emma McIntyre (styling by Eliza Grossman); shot on location at The Chase, Toronto; coat, $3,700, and dress, $2,960, both by Louis Vuitton

See our boudoir trend guide »

When I was growing up, I used to visit my grandmother in Palm Beach, where she wintered in a conch-pink pseudo Spanish-style condo called (accurately) La Bonne Vie. My favourite activity was grocery shopping at Palm Beach’s Publix—a glamorized supermarket washed a bunny-nose pink with valet parking and bougainvillea-swathed archways. Here, tycoons with Hermès-orange suntans and manses on Billionaire’s Row shuffled through the aisles dressed in silken Persian pyjamas and monogrammed velvet bedroom slippers, carts full of crab salad, their long-suffering chauffeurs waiting outside in purring Bentleys. Wearing pyjamas outside of the bedroom has historically been the habit of the egregiously wealthy, the eccentric, the hyper-medicated on day passes—and the freelance writer.

I’ll admit that as I write this, I’m sporting my favourite pair of Liberty Print J.Crew man-jams. In my defense, it’s a grouchy-skied fall afternoon, with clouds heaped like an unmade bedspread—ideal weather for pyjama wearing, like clear skies and tail winds for pilots. But the jammy trend du jour is hardly limited to oversized drawstring pants and piped tops. For Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2013 fashion show, models in dark ’50s wigs and plummy pouts drifted down the runway in fur-edged peignoirs and lace-trimmed negligees half-hidden under oversized astrakhan coats. The mise-en-scène: 50 numbered wooden doors lined a catwalk-turned-walk-of-shame to evoke a plush, tryst-inviting hotel, the sort where women in various stages of post-indiscretion undress might wander before escaping into the dusky wee smalls. The palette—decadent and drowsy—slipped from shades of champagne to dreamy, moony blues to inky midnights. And the look, plush with the poetry of melancholy, conjured that romantic liminal moment before the first flush of dawn and the vulgar daytime glare of consequence. For the occasion, Marc Jacobs took his bow in PJs from Vuitton’s recent men’s collection. (The so-called Garden In Hell pattern by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman took inspiration from Diana Vreeland’s red-lacquer apartment.) Meanwhile, for his Marc Jacobs collection, the designer accoutred his models in dark, well-mussed (presumably from time spent au lit) shag wigs and glamourpuss silk pyjamas in shimmery shades of gold and gunmetal. (He opted to don a pair of Prada ’jams for the bow.)

But Jacobs is not the only designer to introduce pyjamas to the light of day. For Rochas’s Fall 2013 show, fluid silk ’jams in shades of raincloud grey were paired with diamond necklaces for a look of coiffed indolence. There is nothing as chic as leisure, and py-jamas are leisure’s timeless uniform.

Louis Vuitton Boudoir Trend
Left: Louis Vuitton Fall 2013. Right: Designer Marc Jacobs. Photography by Peter Stigter

Men began sporting pyjamas (the word finds its etymological roots in the Urdu word “paejama,” meaning leg covering) in the West in the late 19th century, when colonials brought back the sartorial exotica from India. But women only began trading their nightdresses for PJs a half-century later by grace of Coco Chanel; the couturier introduced cocktail-ready lounging pyjamas, fashioned for evening entertaining and champagne imbibing, in 1918. Like so many of Chanel’s avant-garde creations, this one wooed the movie star and the glamorous working girl alike with its sophisticated insouciance. Greta Garbo sported a pair of striped pyjamas in 1929’s The Single Standard; Ginger Rogers wore a satin pyjama set in 1933’s then-racy musical 42nd Street; Jean Harlow slinked around her boudoir swathed in a white satin gown in 1933’s Dinner at Eight; and Claudette Colbert popped on an adorable pair of oversized men’s pyjamas in 1934’s It Happened One Night.

Tied to the rarefied province of silver-screen starlets, the trend sparked the 1920s term “the cat’s pyjamas,” meaning the height of cool. That expression might have inspired the following headline-grabbing story in the 1922 New York Times: “Sunday afternoon strollers in lower Fifth Avenue were treated to the unusual sight yesterday of a young woman clad in transparent yellow silk pyjamas, escorted by four cats, also clad in pyjamas, leisurely making her way along the avenue….”

As it turns out, I feel somewhat cat-like upon donning a negligee-inspired LV bias dress. Which is to say I feel that I should assume a look of heavy-lidded glamorous ennui and take refuge from the banality of reality with a sumptuous snooze. Instead, however, I take my dress to a TIFF party. The affair, taking place at downtown Toronto’s C Lounge, is (appropriately, given my outfit) dubbed Goodnight Gansevoort, feting the Spring 2014 opening of the Gansevoort’s Las Vegas outpost, and moonlighting as an after-party for the premiere of Hateship Loveship, starring Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce.

The lace-edged, champagne-hued dress, summoning a mood of nostalgia and languorous debauchery, makes me feel I should take up smoking and highball drinking. (Alas, there are no highballs, and Wiig appears to be the only one at the party who’s smoking.) I settle for a glass of bubbly and spot society observer Shinan Govani gadabouting amid the white, gossamer-curtained cabanas. I attempt an imperious wave (to suit the look), but he doesn’t notice me, so the wave devolves into the unseemly and frantic. He takes notice. “It’s very Rita Hayworth,” he kindly says of the frock, “but why are you standing? That dress is made for lounging. And it needs its own Lincoln Town Car.” It also, I determine, needs a fainting couch—the sort of perch to inspire reclining and mignardise nibbling at socially unacceptable hours. Ann Layton, president of Toronto-based travel PR company Siren Communications, remarks on my ensemble: “You need a pair of marabou mules.” She’s right: Like most things, this outfit would be better with marabou.

This pyjama-style dress demands a life more glamorous—a life I fear I can’t provide. As night closes in on the city, I consider the life Dress and I could, but will never, have together, with its marabou slippers and Lincoln Town Cars and fainting couches and oceanside Palm Beach estates. I wander home, unaccompanied by chauffeurs or quartets of cats in jim jams, ready to slip into something more comfortable.

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