The 1950s saw new materials being utilized for nightwear, sleepwear, and lounge clothes- the most popular of which was Nylon. Although Nylon had been patented in the late 1930s, due to WWII it was not freely available again until the late 1940s. By the 1950s, Nylon was used in frilly nightgowns, slips, half-slips, and baby doll nighties. Rayon and satin lavishly trimmed in lace or decorated with embroidery made up the bulk of 1950s sleepwear.
1950s Nightgowns- Pink, Pastels
The 50s nightgown was a very pretty bias-cut gown with an empire waist and no sleeves, cap sleeves, or long balloon sleeves. They came in tea lengths or long ankle length. In the early years, striped rayon in pink, blue, or peach was popular. The later years preferred solid pastels and floral cotton prints. They were very flattering and quite popular today for vintage nightgown collectors.
In winter, cotton or flannel was warmer but also less pretty. Long sleeve winter nightgowns were ankle lengths with a high round neck and optional Peter Pan collar. Some had a gathered waist, but most were pleated from the bust and draped down to the floor. They were sometimes called the “Mother Hubbard” nightgown for its nun-like appearance. The inspiration for the nightgown was taken from the Victorian era, where long white gowns were embroidered and trimmed with delicate lace around the neckline.
The vintage Babydoll nightie was popularized during this decade, featured in the 1956 movie Baby Doll, worn by Carroll Baker. The Baby Doll was often sleeveless, fitted across the shoulders before skimming out over the body like a smock, falling to the upper thigh. It came with a matching pair of bloomer shorts ruffled and trimmed in lace. Lace and ruffles heavily decorated the round neckline and shoulders. Some inspiration was taken from Court Jester or Pierrot clown costumes (can you see it?). Most were made of light cotton, but more sexy versions were made of rayon, satin and sheer chiffon (oh my!).
The babydoll nightie was the preferred outfit in summer, while the two-piece pajama was common year-round. Despite the 1950s nightgown’s pretty looks and soft materials, it was losing favor as the decade progressed. Thanks to the Asian inspiration for Beach Pajamas in the 1930s, they experienced a revival in the bedroom in the 1950s. Belted pajamas sets, smock top pajamas, and shirt pajamas took on global influences.
“Mandarin” pajamas were pajama shirts with coordinating wide leg pajama pants underneath. Asian elements like print buttons, collars, and robes embellished pajamas for most of the decade.
Other 50s pajamas came in floral prints, candy stripes, polka dots, novelty themes, checks, and mod two-tone combinations. They could be made from light or heavy materials for the different seasons.
Some pajamas had tie belts and most had extra large patch pockets or a man style chest pocket. The difference between men’s and women’s pajamas by the end of the decade was minimal.
One emerging new style in the late 50s was the winter ski pajama. They looked like long underwear with a high ribbed neck, sleeve and leg cuffs. They fit slim but not too tight. Most came in Nordic winter-y prints, chevron stripes, and Christmas themes. Today’s old fashioned pajama selection isn’t very different than 50s styles.
While winter pajamas were modest, summer pajamas and nightgowns — especially baby dolls — were not. This made wearing a robe a requirement. Only in the bedroom alone (or with a spouse) was a woman allowed to remove her robe.
Even while sitting in bed reading, she was probably wearing a bed jacket. It was a short, chest length robe that covered the top half of her body. It could be sheer chiffon but was usually made of a warm quilted flannel. The topmost pictured bed jacket is knit into a bolero jacket, another warm option. They were very handy to wear while in bed or white doing a nighttime and morning beauty routine.
Full length or tea length robes were sold to match nightgowns and pajamas. The very soft Chenille robe was a perennial 50s favorite. So were Chenille bedspreads, bathroom rugs, and curtains. Big, fluffy, warm, and colorful, they replaced the ’40s manly plaid robe, although the quilted robe was still popular. Light corduroy robes and terry cloth robes entered the picture in the late ’50s.
Summer robes were made of light cotton, satin, rayon, or Nylon to match nightgowns. They fastened at the top with a button and bow or two tied ribbons and flared out like a tent from there. Some had tie belts to nip in the waist and large patch pockets. Sleeves were short, just below the elbow or full wrist length. The fit was loose and modest yet with the a tea length were fresh and modern.