Pajama Party

Montgomery Ward catalog 115, 1931. Click to enlarge

Two of my favorite blogs, The Vintage Traveler and Witness2fashion, have been investigating the pajama craze in the 1920s recently. I thought it would be interesting to examine the record in the world of down market catalogs

The fashion forward woman in the first half of the twentieth century probably did not turn to Montgomery Ward for her clothes.  One case in point is the trend for stylish pajamas intended to be worn  outside of the bedroom.  In Vogue magazine I saw the first feature illustrating a black velvet set clearly designed for evening wear in 1918. (“Paris Openings are Keyed to Victory,” Vogue October 1, 1918.) By the 1920s the magazine published numerous articles on where to show up in these stylish pants outfits.  One 1925 article, “The Pyjama: Once a Novelty, Is Now an Established Mode,” determined three different kinds of pajamas—one for sleeping, one for lounging, and one for the beach. “In fact, every hour of the day now has some use for this gay mode.” (Vogue, March 15, 1925, 102)

However, it wasn’t until the next decade that Montgomery Ward catalogs started to offer pajamas on their lingerie pages.  Some were in cotton flannel, obviously for sleeping.  But others in cotton and rayon, with one to three pieces, were clearly designed for outside of the bedroom.

Montgomery Ward catalog 117, 1932. Click to enlarge

While most of the outfits came in standard bust sizes 30-44, in 1932 one pajama set was to fit larger women, up to bust size 52. “Work in them, sleep in them, they are always comfortable.”

Montgomery Ward catalog 118, 1933. Click to enlarge

Ward’s made no specific mention of outside activities until 1933, when one ad had a definite maritime theme.

So the Montgomery Ward company took a very long time to follow the pajama trend.  Once it did, though, it gave customers a real bargain. In one Vogue ad, the upscale New York department store Bonwit Teller offered a three piece rayon jersey pajama outfit in 1931 for $49.50.  The most expensive offering in the catalog in the same year was $2.00.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a look at these two outfits to compare the quality?

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6 Responses to Pajama Party

  1. Wendelah says:

    I love these “pajamas.” I need a pair for myself.

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    As I make note of the dates of these ads, I wonder what my grandmothers were wearing in that time frame. Both were farm wives, both spent their days “at a trot” as I witnessed or as my father said of his mother. The energetic pace of their daily lives was because they had so much work to do, so many others to care for. I’m sure lounging pajamas were not part of their wardrobes.

  3. Thanks’ for sharing these images — your exploration of Montgomery Ward catalogs really fills a gap! There was a Montgomery Ward store in my hometown (also the county seat) in the 1950s that used a pneumatic tube system for ringing up sales — the clerk on the ground floor would fill out the sales slip and take the customer’s payment, put them into a cylinder, put the cylinder into the tube, and your money would whoosh up to the business offices on the second floor (a balcony visible from the main floor.) Someone up there would make change, issue a receipt, and whoosh it back to the sales desk. I loved this process, but I never knew that “Monkey Ward,” as it was always referred to in my family, ever sold anything as stylish as those pajamas! I associated it with the work clothes worn by my father and uncles.

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  5. eimear says:

    I love these pyjamas – I had been looking for a pattern to make some and ended up doing a spadea 70s version – they took a fair bit of fabric, and while I did feel rather glamourous wearing them, I had to be careful running up stairs as the fabric in the wide leg kept tripping me up….so meant for languid moves I think….would still like to try the kitchenette pyjama tho

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