For most of our history, Americans slept in nightshirts. Imagine an ankle-length tee shirt, often accompanied by a night cap. The shirts were loose and often seem to have been made of a warm material such as flannel.
Until well into the 1900s in the U.S., bedrooms were cold for much of the year, so staying warm required blankets and comforters, and night shirts helped. The bulk of the American population lived in parts of the country that got very cold in winter. It wasn’t until the invention of AC that population exploded into places like Florida and Arizona.
Pajamas didn’t become significant items in our wardrobe, mostly the male wardrobe, until the 1930s. The fashion originated in Britain, where it started to take hold during the later Victorian period.
Pajamas are a result of the British conquest of India. The word “pajamas” originated in Persia (now called Iran), and was applied to a garment of loose men’s trousers usually fastened with a drawstring. The British picked up both the fashion and the word in the Bengal region of India, and took it back home.
It is not clear how pajamas made the transition from daytime trousers to nighttime sleeping clothes. Pajamas have long since gone native in the United States, with several words describing them, including “jammies” and “PJs.” In recent years, pajamas have become clothes for lounging around the house.
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