Around the World: What People Wear to Sleep

Loved sleeping naked or wrapped in a long robe? Science and history explain your sleepwear choices.

Your sleepwear choice is often predominantly affected by comfort and style. It could be a kimono satin robe with rich prints. Or a silk pyjama with minimalist aesthetics. You could be a fan of shirts-and-short sets, or the more feminine night gown. But whatever the case, did you know that there are many other sleepwear options around the world, and that they come with health benefits, as well as cultural legacies?

The feminine nightgowns can be traced back to the Victorian Era where the nobles implied that there should be proper body clothing for lounging at home, and for bedtime. Known prudes, the era criticised clothes that accentuated womanly shapes. Thus, a prim, straight-cut nightgown came to form. In the 1840s, tailors suggested that the gown can be beautified with lace trimmings; this concept did not sit well with the elders, forcing the English ladies to stick to her plain and prudent gown up to the 19th century. After this era, style changes were added to the gown, shifting the neckline to a round cut, gathered or cape-like collars, with pleated sleeves and bodices tied with ribbons or buttons. In winter, nightgowns feature pink and cream flannel, while in summer, cotton variants were used. 

Bias-cut nightgowns become a fad in the 1920s when introduced by the Parisian seamstress Madeleine Vionnet. Your beloved strappy camisole was taken from the front low-cut pink nightgown worn by trendsetter Mary d'Erlanger, who loved it so much that she used it as a ball dress.

Pinning for tunics? Your night shirts have evolved from the ones used in Egypt and Rome. These tops were cut with rectangular pieces for the body, with gussets under the arm in order to avoid wasting fabric. Despite being shapeless, they were comfortable; linen, an oil-and-sweat-absorbing fabric, was a common material. It was bleached and boiled when soiled. These shirts remain basic until the 1800s, when tailors decide to add more shapes and designs.

“Naked as you were born,” goes the famous adage, perhaps attributing to the “birthday suits” people wear in their arrival to the world. The term was coined in the 1700s, perhaps by some wise jester attributing the bareness of babies. This habit, however, is still evident today.

The Brits are known for their birthday suit – which is no suit at all – for sleeping. It could be a lazy preference, but there's benefit to it, especially during the peak of the summer. According to the Huffington Post, experts have associated sleeping naked with weight-loss and the prevention of diabetes. In a small-sample-size experiment, five men slept at varying temperatures over four months. The results point to the advantages of a cooler room, as well as wearing less clothes to bed. Sleeping naked, it turns out, aids you to burn more calories. For women, it could also prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria in the body – especially in the UK, where it has been revealed that pyjamas take 2 weeks before they are washed.

In the eastern part of the globe, the Japanese sleep in their traditional robes called jinbei, a set of matching top and pants that are made from hemp (or cotton), before being dyed with unique patterns. The top is akin to a three-fourth sleeved jacket that falls to the hips, tied with a ribbon from the inside out. The bottoms drop to the knees, usually loose and wide, allowing ventilation for the body. Jinbeis are favourite summer clothing and you can see elders wearing it on casual days.

In India, there's shalwar kameez, a traditional outfit worn by both men and women. The top is sewn straight in a flat A-shaped design. Tailors can showcase their skill, however, in the shape and decoration around the neckline and the sleeves. Underneath it is a pair of comfortable loose trousers that dip down to the ankles.

Long silk gowns called cheongsam have been popular in China since the Qing dynasty. Literally translated as “long shirt,” this one-piece garment is China's national clothing for females, originating as a loose-fitting A-line dress that conceals the wearer's body shape, no matter the age. However, history weaves a new silhouette to the cheongsam, which is now made with a slenderer, body hugging cut. High collars, muscle sleeves and butterfly buttons make this dress unique, along with the side slits that make movement easier.

Sleepwear comes in many forms and origins, but the goal is simple: to make your Zzzs as delightful as ever. No matter what you wear to bed – a matching pyjama, a tunic or a sensual camisole – make sure it gives you the comfort you need, every time you wear it.

Caris Cruz

Writer at RADICE

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