PAJAMAS They're not just for sleeping

December 05, 1990|By Robin Givhan | Robin Givhan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SOME EXPERTS place the blame on the baby boomers. After all, they seem to cause or affect everything else.

The fact is that men's pajamas are no longer only cotton snap-fly bottoms and button-front tops. Nor are they just the occasional silk boxer short in black or navy. Men's pj's have been jazzed up and reinvented so they're both opulent and elegant. And it's probably because of the baby boomers.

"Men's lounge dressing started in the mid-'80s, when people's lifestyles really changed. There was more of a shift to family and home, to partying and entertaining at home," says Denise Slattery, vice president of Joe Boxer, a San Francisco-based underwear and loungewear company.

"Loungewear for men has opened up a whole new market."

As the baby boomers became stay-at-home families, cocooned and lived out a host of other cliches, they also began to concentrate on home entertainment.

That means that when they now play host to a few friends say by throwing a video party or playing a nice game of Pictionary they're allowed to be comfortable as well as fashionable. Enter pajamas and robes. They aren't just for bedtime anymore. They're for greeting a couple of close friends. They're for sitting around and watching movies and sipping wine. They're for those special evenings with a significant other. They're for pampering yourself just because you can.

Statistics from the American Apparel Manufacturers Association support this pajama theory. Retail sales of men's night wear that's pajamas and nightshirts are up about 25 percent from the first six months of 1989 to the first six months of '90. Sales in men's robes also jumped about 42 percent in the same period.

And, that doesn't just mean people are buying more cotton pj's. Analysts at the Apparel Association say that although volume in the men's and boys' night-wear industry is actually down slightly, retail dollars are up, and that's probably because of increased interest in silks and other pricey fabrics.

In these days of cautious shopping, with menswear designers searching for those items and styles that will entice customers to buy, loungewear may be their answer.

Loungewear can also be nostalgic, taking men back to the days of their childhood or reminding them of the days of smoking jackets and sweet-smelling pipes.

Pajamas and robes have a long and respectable history. Pajamas began as pants worn by men in Persia and India. And, robes used to be an all-purpose lounging garment back in the 18th Century, when it was worn to greet guests and even take breakfast at the local coffee shop. That's according to "Man at His Best" (Addison-Wesley, $24.95), a guide to style by the editors of Esquire magazine. Slowly, robes went from their public days in the 18th Century, to their elegant days as silk dressing gowns in the first half of this century to their most recent role as functional and basically nondescript.

Now, another change is at hand, and gift givers and fashion-conscious men are leading the way. The rest of the gentlemen still sleep in T-shirts or nothing at all, says Peg Treacy, president of Churchill Associates Inc., an impression management company that counsels people on image and appearance.

"The young men absolutely laugh when you say anything about pajamas," Slattery says.

Designers believe that once these men get a look at the new styles in pajamas and loungewear, they will stop laughing and start buying.

Menswear designers who previously concentrated on tailored clothes and sportswear also are taking the loungewear plunge. Last spring came the premiere of Perry Ellis Nightwear. The line is inspired by other Perry Ellis lines and includes robes with the signature Perry Ellis polka dots and large awning strips. The patterns and fabrics from the ties also were carried over in the loungewear line.

New York designer Sabato Russo transfers the rich colors and ethnic influences in his tailored collection to the loungewear items he offers for the holiday season and for spring 1991.

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