Style / May 2017

Posh Pyjamas and How To Wear Them

Even if one’s better half, the postman and regular Skype contacts in distant lands are the only ones who ever get to see them, a man’s pyjamas should nail the style-comfort dichotomy as well as his shoes do.

Gene Kelly in An American In Paris, 1951

In part because of the ipmanifestyles that the officer class led during British rule over India, a wealth of the modern gent’s vocabulary derives from the sub-continent: “Cashmere”, “cheroot”, “cummerbund”, “jodhpur”, “khaki” and even “snooker” (which was applied to the game by Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain in 1875 in the Officers' Mess at Jubbulpore) all being examples.

And, the Hindi word paejama, meaning “leg covering”, is another gem the colonial bruisers brought them back from the East in the late 19th Century, along with the garments themselves. By the end of that century, the popularity of smart two-piece nightwear in fine wools and silks saw the phasing out of a distinctly unflattering garment which calls to mind such Victorian fictional bachelors as Wee Willie Winkie and Ebenezer Scrooge: the night shirt.

By the time Neville Chamberlin announced on BBC radio that Britain was at war with Germany in September 1939, PJs – usually in cotton twill, calico and flannelette, and for some reason invariably bearing vertical stripes – were becoming ensconced in the gentleman’s wardrobe the world over (the extent to which Audrey Hepburn’s delectable appearance in a stripy two-piece in Roman Holiday in 1953 - Coco Chanel had put women in men's PJs just after the war - prompted men to buy them in the hope their wives would persistently borrow them is anyone’s guess).

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