** sleepwear


boy's nightshirt
Digure 1.--This is a still from "Lassie. The Painted Hills" (1951). The boy was played by Gary Grey. Interestingly even movies that make detinct cerrors in costuming, commonly do get the nightshirys right, perhaps because they are such a simple garment.

Boys have slept in a variety of different garments. Many people slept naked, but by the 19th century, nightshirts were very common. Men and boys who wore night clothes for several centuries slept in similar night shirts. Boys and girls also slept in similar nightshirts. Only in the 20th century did children begin to wear pajamas and did specialized children's sleepwear developed. Pajamas appeared in the late 19th century and steadily increased in popularity. The primary sleepwear garments for most boys by the 1910s was pajamas, although there were variatioins from country to coybtry. There are several different styles of pajamas. There are also specialized sleepwear for younger children such as sleepers. This is not a topic that HBC has had time to reserch in detaoil yet, although we welcome reader comments.


Most peole during the Middle Ages people slept naked. Here climate must have been a factor. Advances in textiles gradually brought about the advent of nightgowns (nightshirts) and nightcaps which were worn at least by the 19th century. Men and boys wore essentially the same sleepwear. Nightshirts were very common in the 19th century, but not universal--especially in warmer climates. A reader writes, "In the 1860s there were places where children and adults went to bed naked: 'Roman women, their husbands and their children sleep all naked" (Edmond About, Rome contemporaine, Paris 1861, page 260). New speciallized garments like pajamas appeared in the late-19th century, but were at first worn by men. Pajamas did not become popular until the 20th century. Major changes occurred in the 20th century when specialized sleepwear for children appeared--first pajamas and then sleepers. We see pajamas becoming the dominant sleepwear by the 1910s. This can be seen in an American 1916 Best & Company catalog. Nightshirts were, however, still available. Pajamas were very common in the mid-20th century, but by the 1970s we see more school-age boys sleeping in their underwear. This seems to have been less common for girls.


For centuries there were no destinctive sleeping garments. In warm climates people slept naked. Here there may have differences with the nobility, but we are not certain about this. In colder climates people slept in the clothing they wore during the day. Nor were there differences beyween adults and children in the sleepwear. We are not entirely sure when this began to change. We know by the 19th century, both men and women as well as children were sleeping in night shirts. This continued throughout the century, although we begin to see pajamas by the late 19th century. We note many kinds of destinctive sleepwear in the 20th century as nightshirts largely went out of style. In particular a range of specialized sleepwear appeared for children. Not only did pajamas or PJs become standard for boys and girls, but we see types increasingly specialized as to age, gender, and weather.

Country Trends

We have some limited information on country trends. American boys by the time of World war II wore sleepers (younger boys) and pajamas. Some Belgian boys as late as the 1960s were wearing nightshirts, but I', not sure how common this was. English boys commonly wore pajamas. I'm not sure when they made the transition from nightshirts to pajamas, but an English reader tell us that nightshirts wet unknown to Engluish boys in the 1960s. We note German boys wearing night shirts into the 1970s, but again we are unsure how popular they were.


We do not have a great deal of information about sleepwear at this time. This would only concern boarding school and thus affect on a relatively small proportion of school children. we know that some schools did have rules about schoolwear. Sleepwear and robes are mentioned in many school clothing lists. Many schools, at least modern schools, have a fairly relaxed approach to sleep wear. This includes schools that have required school uniforms. Schools oftn required boys to have bath robes for use at night after changing into sleepwear. Sleeowear itself was mostly night shirts in the 19th century. This changed in the early/mid-20th century to pajamas. Oler boys might wear underwear rather than pajamas. Here most schools now let the students decided for themselves.


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Created: March 11, 2000
Last updated: 2:02 PM 7/18/2008