During the ‘40s men didn’t just throw on an old T-shirt and boxer shorts to get into bed. They had to look presentable, too! There was little change in men’s vintage pajamas between the mid 1930s and the 1950s.
Matching cotton pajama sets were always worn. They consisted of straight-leg pants (or shorts) with a high elastic waistband or drawstring waist and a button down shirt. The shirt might have had a large pointed collar, a crew neck or v-neck. Some were pullover (middy) styles instead of button down coat style.
Others took influence from Asia with a mandarin coat style or mandarin knots instead of buttons. Most had a large patch pocket on the front left side. Checks, vertical stripes, paisley, and plaids in pink, blue, tan, white, green, and maroon added some flair to PJs. Fabrics changed during the seasons. Winter saw flannel or flannelette offering the most warmth. Summer saw cotton lawn, cotton broadcloth, cotton percale, cotton sateen, and seersucker.
While cotton pajamas were worn year-round, winter introduced a warmer knit sleep set. The sleep pants resembled men’s ski pants (or did ski pants look like pajamas?). The legs cuffed at the ankle with a wide ribbed band. The waistband was elastic at the back with a button fly at the front. They came with a coordinated crew neck knit shirt with cuffed wrists in a matching solid color or horizontal striped top.
A summer version was called a slack-suit pajama. It had wide legs but no ribbed cuffs, just like men’s trousers. It came with a short sleeve knit shirt, like a ringer T-shirt. These were especially popular with the younger generation. They became an acceptable look for lounge wear, not just sleepwear. Sleep shorts were also offered although not heavily used.
Long, nightshirts or sleepcoats were still worn during the ‘40s, too. The top was the same style as the regular pajama shirts and was boxy, and falling straight to the knees in summer and to the calf in winter. In extreme winter climates, men would wear a long sleeve union suit (aka long underwear) underneath nightshirts and pajamas.
Just like ‘40s women, men always threw a robe on over their pajamas to lounge around the house. Men’s robes had padded shoulders, came down to the knee or mid-calf, and were worn wrapped around and tied with a long wide fabric belt. They usually had a large shawl collar, but a wide notch collar was an option as well. Some had piping in a lighter shade to add another dimension. One or two large patch pockets were placed at hip level. Made from cotton flannel, wool flannel, blanket cloth, gabardine, terrycloth, and rayon, they came in colorful plaids, stripes, brocade, jacquard, and loud patterns. Jewel tone satins of blue, maroon, green, or wine were the most handsome colors.
In summer, a seersucker or light cotton beach robe was worn to the pool or beach. It protected men from sunburn or windchill as well as serving as a layer of modesty over knit swimbriefs.
A waist length silk robe called a Smoking Jacket was a men’s accessory that was worn over his day clothes at home to protect them from smoke and ash damage. They were light, decorative, and not very necessary since most men already had a full length robe. They had lost popularity until the 1950s, when the “Rat Pack” men made them dapper again.
Slippers were another essential item for the ‘40s man. They looked similar to loafers with penny, Oxford, or plain tops of brown or tan leather and a soft, warm fleece lining. The “opera” cut slipper was the most unique with a V notch cut out on the sides. The “Romeo” was a slip on bootie with elastic side panels.
In winter the “fuzzyy wuzzy” slipper kept toes extra warm.