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History of Pyjamas
Any type of sleepwear appears to be a relatively recent innovation and pyjamas or adult onesies even more so.
For much of human history, only the very wealthy would have had clothing made just for sleeping in. In general, people were so tired from physical labour or hunger that they slept in their daily wear or , if they were lucky, an undershirt or smock”, which was like a vest worn next to the skin and washed every six months whether it needed it or not.
Since the Middle Ages men gradually started to wear nightshirts but then in the 18th century, colonials started introducing pyjamas to Britain. The word pyjama stems from the Hindi word paejama, meaning “leg covering”. The first recorded use of the word in English came from 1800, in a “Memorandum relative to Tippoo Sultaun’s wardrobe” (OED). If you read an English novel from before that date (e.g. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, 1749), you’ll find accounts of men wearing nightgowns and not pyjamas when they sleep.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pyjamas “were introduced in England as lounging attire in the 17th century but soon went out of fashion. About 1870 they reappeared in the Western world as sleeping attire for men, after returning British colonials brought (them) back…”
By the 1880s retailers were offering the two-piece jacket and “loose trousers tied at the waist” that we recognise now. By the 1930s pyjamas had become a key part of a man’s wardrobe. They were even worn at home as elegant evening attire in materials such as silk and cotton – loungewear had arrived.
Such a garment is used by various persons in India e.g. by women of various classes, by Sikh men, and most by Muslim of both sexes. It was adopted from the Muslim by Europeans as an article of dishabille and of night attire … It is probable that we English took the habit like a good many others from the Portuguese. Thus Pyrard (c. 1610) says, in speaking of Goa Hospital: “Ils ont force calsons sans quoy ne couchent iamais les Portugais des Indes” … The word is now used in London shops. A friend furnishes the following reminiscence: “The late Mr. B—, tailor in Jermyn Street, some 40 years ago, in reply to a question why pyjammas had feet sewn on to them (as was sometimes the case with those furnished by London outfitters) answered: ‘I believe, Sir, it is because of the White Ants.”
Examples. 1828: “His chief joy smoking a cigar in loose Paee-jams and native slippers.” Orient. Sport. Mag. reprint 1873, i. 64. 1881: “The rest of our attire consisted of that particularly light and airy white flannel garment, known throughout India as a pyjama suit.” Haekel, Ceylon, p. 329.
History of Onesies
Whilst the history of pyjamas can be traced back a couple of centuries, the adult onesie is a recent phenomenon. The infant one piece romper suit or “onesie” is a way of combining a top and trousers in a loose garment which cannot be easily pulled off by a child. It developed during the 20th Century and really became popular in the 1950s as a convenient way of keeping babies clean, dry and cosy. Onesie is actually a trade name of Gerber Childrenswear though arguably, at least in the UK, it now has a generic use.
References to adult onesies are almost non existent before the popularity of TV but:
This description from Patrick O’;Brian’;s “Post Captain” set on a Royal Navy frigate in 1803:
“Stephen, will you for the love of God take off that thing?
My wool garment? You have noticed it have you?… Have you ever seen anything so deeply rational? See, I can withdraw my head entirely: the same applies to the feet and the hands. Warm, yet uncumbering; light; and above all healthy – no constriction anywhere!”
And this from the history of underclothes by Cecil Willett Cunnington, Phillis Emily Cunnington in 1928 – “Something more bizarre was the engineer’;s overall pyjamas in satin and check georgette; an all-in-one suit buttoning down the front, pocket on the leg, shoulder straps.”
The adult onesie as we know it now was developed in America, where the garment is generally known as footed pajamas, and really only became popular in the last few years with the expansion of the internet:
Onesies for adults arrived in the UK in summer 2008 when funzee designed their “original sky blue” based on long johns that you see in old cowboy films. It became apparent that there was a ready market, especially amongst a younger audience who watch US TV shows like Scrubs and Family Guy. In 2010 the adult onesie started becoming fashionable (or possibly a crime of fashion?), and appeared on various TV shows. Now the number of designs and styles is increasing so that there are onesies in every colour and size, for men, women, teens and of course babies and toddlers. These adult onesies are used as sleepsuits or all in one pyjamas but also as adult rompers or loungewear and have been sighted out and about in public. Funzee now sells its onesies for adults on dedicated websites for the UK, Germany, USA, and Other EU.