Back To Basics With Traditional Nightgowns
The humble nightgown is the original women’s sleepwear. Starting as a simple shift made of plain white material is has gradually evolved into the vast range of fancy nighties and nightwear that we know today. But the classic plain nightgown is still widely available and very popular. For simple, practical sleepwear that can be surprisingly attractive you might need to reconsider your attitude to the plain ladies nightgown.
The classic nightgown is a long, loose, dress style garment that reaches from the neck to the floor covering up all the body and the arms and legs, in fact it is sometimes referred to as a nightdress. Historically, they would have been worn by men and women and to differentiate the male and female nightwear, nightgowns for women were usually decorated in a feminine manner with ribbons, bows, lace and embroidery. While to a modern eye these long nightdresses appear modest the reason for their all covering style had more to do with keeping the wearer warm and comfortable in the days before well heated bedrooms. These practical attributes are still attractive in nightgowns but they are also styled to be more feminine and to make the wearer more attractive. There is a subtle sensual feel to a well designed nightgown that teases by suggesting what is underneath rather than displaying it. Of course, if you want a more overt and sexy sleepwear there is always the skimpier successor to the nightgown which is the babydoll nightie.
The difference between a nightgown and nightie is vague but generally a nightgown is something that veers towards the traditional garment described above. Traditionally, they were made in simple white materials with linen and cotton nightgowns being the commonest form of women’s sleepwear. For colder weather there was always heavy flannel nightgowns. For wealthier women and for more special occasions, such as wedding nights, there were silk nightgowns and later satin became a popular and more accessible material. The basic night gown would have long sleeves and a high neck which, especially if teemed with a nightcap, kept the wearer well insulated from the cold. The long flowing body of the gown allowed free movement in sleep and would trap warm air around the body to help keep a sleeping woman warm.
Today, even traditional nightgowns will come in a variety of decorative styles for a more feminine feel. Long sleeves, while still available are uncommon, replaced either by short or sleeveless versions. Necklines have become lower too and a loose white nightgown with a plunging neckline can create an exciting contrast between the virginal white nightdress and the dramatic décolleté. Trimmings of lace and ribbons are pretty much standard too.
For those who hark back to the traditional night attire there is a thriving business in Victorian and vintage nightgowns. As much of the detail on these gowns was done by hand the workmanship of the embroidery and lace can be beautiful and a good vintage nightgown can be as much a work of art as something to sleep in. There are dedicated dealers in these sorts of garments and of course sites like e-bay will always have interesting and unusual old sleepwear for sale.
Most designers and retailers now include their own take on this classic style. In addition to the traditional materials there is a range of synthetic materials that mimic traditional satin and silk sleepwear and specialist fleece and microfiber materials to create very warm winter nightdresses. Contemporary designs do tend to be more revealing but still use traditional decorative ideas such as lace and embroidery. These have been updated with fancy prints and a much wider range of colors than the traditional white nightdress.
While one of the great things about nightgowns is that they are less size sensitive than other styles of sleepwear, they do come in a range of sizes including specialist sizes. For the shorter woman who will find even small sizes too long there are dedicated petite nightgowns. Similarly, there are many plus size nightgowns too and many fuller figured women prefer these to plus size pajamas.
Nightgowns are also a popular choice with pregnant women who find them more comfortable to wear than conventional pajamas and, of course, they have more room to “grow into” than conventional pajamas. Not only are they more comfortable to wear they are flattering and allow an expectant mother to indulge her flirty and feminine side. There are many dedicated ranges of maternity sleepwear that provide special maternity nightgowns. Nursing nightgowns are also popular and are usually fitted with easy to open straps or panels for quick breastfeeding. They can also be designed with integral bras for extra support and pads to help with leaking or painful breasts.
There is much more to women’s sleepwear than women’s pajamas and the old-fashioned nightgown can be as fresh, feminine and fabulous as any other intimate item in your wardrobe.