Pajama Fashion: Staying In Ramps Up Sleepwear Sales — and Style

While consumers once sought out transitional activewear to take them from the gym to the office, many are now counting on sleepwear to take them from the sheets to the Zoom screen.

With the increasingly blurred line between working from home or living at work, or simply staying in more than going out, pajamas are performing double duty, which means brands are looking to cater to new needs, whether through fashion or function — or both. New sleepwear lines are now hitting the market with greater frequency and demand for pajamas is expected to swell in coming months.

Sleepwear spending, according to The NPD Group’s consumer data, is up 2 percent year-to-date through September and gaining a share point thanks to an uptick in women’s sleepwear sales.

“Cozy categories (which include sweatshirts, sweatpants, active bottoms, sleep and socks) are expected to capture 31 percent of spend this holiday season, up from 26 percent in 2019, connecting with our sense of security,” Maria Rugolo, NPD director and industry analyst of fashion apparel, told WWD.

What people sleep in has evolved over the years, moving from undergarments worn to bed to sleepwear as a category in its own right. Throughout that time, pajama styles have shifted along the spectrum between formal and casual and fashionable to dowdy.

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Now it’s about melding comfort with chic and tapping into both performance and practicality — a marriage Eileen Fisher has embraced with a sustainable sleepwear collection launched Wednesday.

A look from Eileen Fisher’s new sustainable sleepwear collection. Eileen Fisher

Pieces in the line, which are priced lower than the brand’s main collection, are made using organic cotton, Bluesign-certified dyes and sustainable nut buttons. But what sets them squarely in the practicality 2020 has called for is that the pieces are built as a system, designed to work together. Whether it’s the tank, the jogger, the shirt-dress or a onesie dubbed the “un-jogger,” or the robe, it’s all coordinated for mixing and matching.

“System dressing means each piece has a purpose and it’s easy to put the pieces together in a multitude of ways and add layer-ups that complete the look — and to build on what you have over time. That system is the core design principle for our main line so it makes sense that we applied the same intent to sleepwear,” Eileen Fisher, founder of her namesake brand, said. “Though sleepwear was in the works prior to 2020 and COVID-19, it happens to be really timely right now as the boundaries between our home and ‘outside’ lives have blurred. Even if we aren’t slowing down while at home, at least we can be comfortable and put together.”

The transitional nature of the new sleepwear collection is evident — it isn’t obvious that the pieces are designed for bedtime, and that’s because Fisher knows wearers will be stretching the time of day they’re in these garments.

“I think the idea of wearing your sleepwear all day, not just when you’re sleeping, will continue to be popular,” she said.

For Nell Diamond, founder and ceo of Hill House Home and the coveted Nap Dress of recent cult fame, creating a garment that could stylishly cater to a range of activities not limited to lounging has been her “life’s work” and 2020’s demands have only fueled the lifestyle brand’s efforts.

“I love having a dress that I can lounge around the house in and go to work in and go to dinner in,” Diamond told WWD, noting that the Nap Dress’ cheeky name is a bit of a misnomer. “That’s always been maybe a little bit of a misconception about the Nap Dress. It’s not this dress for lounging around the house only…this is a product that’s really made for women who are doing so many things. And to me that efficiency of style and comfort, being super flattering across a bunch of body types, was crucial to us.”

Amy Lefévre wears Hill House Home’s Ellie Tartan Nap Dress. Amy Leferve

Hill House Home has rolled its Nap Dresses out in much-anticipated drops, using just a few silhouettes (created after a year’s worth of initial product development to get the fit and the smocking just right) and swapping in new colorways and fabrics. Wednesday marks the brand’s latest drop — its holiday Nap Dresses in gold brocade and a seasonal tartan that’s a little heavier for colder climes. Next month Hill House Home will also launch what it’s calling the Teddy Sweatsuit, “a super soft puff sleeve” set, and the Jewel Jammie, which draws on the brand’s best-selling Athena Nap Dress for the top (but “with jewels all over it”) and pairs with a drawstring pant.

Really, the more comfort clothing the better, and the more put together consumers can feel while wearing it, the better.

“I think people are getting more comfortable with the idea that these pieces of clothing that work for you, that might work for sleep and for those other things, can be elevated or brought down to a more comfortable level,” Diamond said. “So I don’t see this sleepwear trend going anywhere for sure. And I actually think it’s going to have trickle effects into all of fashion.”

Karen Walker, whose fashion signature has dealt with the interplay of what could be considered counterpoints (luxe and street, folk and utility), seconds the notion of sleepwear continuing to influence fashion. And her recently released second collection with Papinelle Sleepwear, nods to it.

A look from the latest Papinelle x Karen Walker collection. Papinelle Sleepwear

“We’ve always loved a blurring of the line between sleep- and daywear. If you start with a mannish-cut, long sleeved, collared silk pajama shirt or low-slung, wide leg, generously long silk pajama pant and add just the right print and palette it only needs the gentlest encouragement to tip into day…a spot of denim or tailoring and a great pair of shoes usually does the job. With this collection, we were aiming for pieces that would work just as well between the sheets as, with the right styling, in the streets,” Walker said. “If the sleepwear’s nice enough, then it lives way beyond the bedroom.”

For sleepwear brands like Papinelle, there has been a silver lining in the manifold shifts spurred by the pandemic — namely, that consumers want more pajamas.

“The year has been full of challenges but our sales and the response to our sleepwear has been phenomenal. Collections that are designed to last three months have been selling out in two weeks or less,” Papinelle Sleepwear founder Renae James, said. “So many new customers have discovered sleepwear and loungewear as a new category in their wardrobe and I don’t think that will change. Working from home is here to stay and with that comes people wanting more comfortable, relaxing and luxurious loungewear and sleepwear. The collection started out being purely sleepwear specializing in natural, breathable, beautiful fabrics and we have shifted into offering loungewear and casual comfortable pieces that you can wear inside or out.”

A look from Beyond Yoga’s new sleepwear collection. Beyond Yoga

At Beyond Yoga, the shift has gone in the opposite direction, with loyal support for its comfort active and loungewear driving a sleepwear launch earlier this month.

“Our customers have been telling me for years that our clothing is so comfortable and soft, they sleep in it…With so many people working from home, the lines are blurring from day to night and truthfully, people just want to be comfortable. Sleepwear seemed like a natural extension for a brand like ours, hence the sleepwear capsule was born. Our newly launched collection is truly the softest sleepwear on the market. It is ultra-lightweight and highly breathable, not to mention comfy and stylish,” the brand’s cofounder and chief executive officer Michelle Wahler said. “I think people are demanding more from their clothing, and why should sleepwear be any different?”

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