Nation awakens to a new trend: Sleepwear is in


May 02, 1991|By Patricia McLaughlin | Patricia McLaughlin,Universal Press Syndicate

All over America, Boomers are climbing back into their pj's.

In 1968, when Rex Reed published a collection of celebrity interviews called "Do You Sleep in the Nude?" it was still a marginally racy question to ask a stranger -- but when the stranger was under 30, the answer was often yes. In 1978, when Jill Clayburgh got out of bed in her T-shirt in "An Unmarried Woman," millions of women in the audience identified immediately. Like them, she was young, attractive, with-it, and didn't own a nightgown.

That was then. Now, all those formerly unfettered, freed-up, naked sleepers are older. Lots of them have children. Given the price of oil, they're turning down their thermostats. And given the recessionary, hunkered-down, cocooned mood of America today, they're spending more time hanging out at home, watching CNN, renting movies for the VCR, having pizza delivered, making micro popcorn. Who knows, some of them probably even read in bed. What all this adds up to is a pajama renaissance.

This year's heroine is Andie McDowell in "Green Card," busily tending her bromeliads in baggy, blue flannel pj's printed with sweet, grannyish little nosegays.

According to Andrea Mantel of Shady Character, sales of the funky flannel pj's they manufacture increased by 45 percent last year over the year before -- despite the fact that they ran out of stock early. At Host Apparel, the nation's largest manufacturer of men's sleepwear -- Host makes Perry Ellis, Christian Dior, Bill Blass and Alexander Julian pajamas, among others -- sales jumped in 1989 and again in 1990. The pajama boom even rated a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal.

The boom probably began with the baby boomlet of the past several years. Lots of moms who used to sleep in raggedy old T-shirts seem to have gotten into pajamas for the first time in eons when they went to the hospital to have their first child. "When I was having Caitlin," one says, "I had this really cute doctor. . . . " Besides, she says, because pajamas button down the front, they're good for nursing.

According to Milton Margolis, vice chairman of Host Apparel, dads tend to come back to pj's later. His company's research has found that, around the time little girls turn 3, their moms tell their dads they had "better cover up." Which Mr. Margolis suspects many of them have wanted to say all along since, according to Host's research, women find it "unaesthetic" for men to sleep in their underwear.

"Hey, I wouldn't want men sleeping in my underwear either," says one wisecracker, a holdout who still hasn't taken his one pair of pajamas, bought when he had to go into the hospital years ago, out of their cellophane package.

That used to be the way folks bought pajamas. In cellophane, for operations. But no more.

Ms. Mantel says Shady Character's "retro kitsch prints" -- cowboys and Indians and cactus and campfires, or fried eggs and coffeepots, or cards and dice -- appeal to "a different customer, not a woman buying them for a man who has a cold or is going into the hospital," but somebody who previously considered pajamas unnecessary, but then "sees these patterns and says, 'I have to have them!' " Sometimes this new customer is a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes a couple. (When it's a couple, the man gets the bottoms and the woman gets the top.)

Some of these new customers do more than sleep in their pajamas. My sister-in-law, for instance, much as she loves her Land's End pink flannels for watching television and generally hanging out, says they're too hot to sleep in.

Shady Character's Mantel lives in her cowboy pj's when she's home and doesn't think twice about hopping on the elevator in them to take out the trash.

Andy Kaplan of Aberdeen & Dunbar, which makes boxer shorts and pajamas, said he recently had "a huge pajama party at my house."

Some specialty shops sell gaudily printed nouveau pajama tops all by themselves, to be worn over jeans. And, if it wanted to, the pajama boom could probably also take some credit for the increased presence of drawstring-waist casual pants.

But wearing pj's on the street isn't where most of the pajama boom is headed -- since, for their new adherents, half the cozy charm of pajamas is that, theoretically, you can't go out in them. Which means you don't have to: Once you're home and into your jammies, you're safe from the outside world, at least until the daily grind starts again tomorrow morning.

Patricia McLaughlin is a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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