Before, there was no drama in the pajama

Fashion: Bright colors and witty designs are putting new fun into this classic style of sleepwear, which also doubles as casual wear for daytime.

February 03, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,Sun Staff

Admit it -- if you could get away with it, you'd be wearing pajamas 24 / 7. Pjs are comfortable, familiar and, nowadays, an extension of a person's fashion sense. They don't have to be ratty threads, not with the boom in so-called novelty pajamas that combine whimsical patterns with all the practical aspects of something that's on your body a third of the day (if you're lucky).

"Women care about what they put on at home. They want to be in pajamas, which are big now," says Mindi Leikin, co-owner of Bare Necessities, an intimate apparel boutique in Greenspring Station. "You want something cozy, especially at this time of year."

Winter is one of the reasons why so many are reaching for their flannels these days, but pajamas also owe their current popularity to television. In recent years, sitcom stars -- from Ally McBeal to the cast of Friends -- have pranced around on screen in their pjs. And then there's the work-at-home influence. As more people telecommute, spending nine to five in your pajamas is a more common practice.

Bare Necessities carries high-end silk, flannel and cotton pj's with exclusive names like Natori, Nick & Nora and P.J. Salvage.

From one rack, Leikin pulls out a pink Fernando Sanchez pajama set bordered in teal. "Once you get someone in this, they never take it off," she says. The pricey line -- these pajamas cost about $250 -- is a favorite with Leikin's clients because of the array of colors, cotton lining and pockets.

Whether you're going to bed alone or not, "You want to feel pretty when you go to sleep," she says.

Loungewear or pajamas

For those of us who want to feel just as good during the day, there's loungewear. Pj's -- with their traditional button-up top with collar and bottoms -- may have crazy prints but they still look like something you'd wear to sleep. Loungewear -- which can include everything from cardigans to camisoles to drawstring pants -- looks like casual going-out attire.

Leikin says younger women tend to gravitate toward novelty pj's whose traditional cuts in flannel and cotton come in less conventional patterns. "What you sleep in fits your personality," she says, pulling out styles with patterns featuring hearts, martinis and cats and dogs.

The Cat's Pajamas is the newest line to appear on favorite sitcoms and series. One of the company's pajama sets worn on the last episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 fetched more than $2,000 in an auction about a year ago, $1,000 more than Tori Spelling's on-air wedding dress.

"This past season was all about pajamas," says 29-year-old Lynn Deregowski, co-owner and founder of the five-year-old San Francisco company. She and fellow 1994 Stanford grad Jenny Maxwell sell their wares nationwide to small stores or through their Web site.

They followed in the footsteps of novelty pj's pioneer Nick & Nora. The 17-year-old, New York company hit it big when Ally McBeal danced with her imaginary baby in the company's Cloud Nine pajamas three years ago.

Though she gives credit to Nick & Nora for paving the way, Deregowski is quick to point out she and her partner are forging their own path. Their $80-plus pj's are edgier than previous kinds, usually wickedly funny. Their more popular patterns include geisha girls, cowgirls, snow globes and show dogs.

"People like to see clothes as an extension of their style and personality," says Deregowski. "They may have to wear suits to work, but once at home, anything goes."

TV credited

She credits popular TV shows for the rise in the public's embrace of jammies. "It was so great what Ally McBeal did for pajamas. When she was dancing with that dancing baby, she was doing what people do [in their pajamas]. You let go," she says.

The Cat's Pajamas' big break came during an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Sarah Michelle Gellar wore the company's "yummy sushi" pajamas. "For us it was really important," says Deregowski. "It gets the prints out there."

Sleepyheads.com, which operates out of the Mall of America and in cyberspace, is one store that sells Deregowski and Maxwell's designs.

Francoise Shirley, 36, and her husband, John, started the Minnesota business about a year ago, after realizing that sleepwear was on an upswing.

"Part of the reason we started the whole concept," Shirley says, "was because we'd see people in pajama bottoms at grocery stores, at the mall, running errands."

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