1930’s Beach Pajama Looks: Borrowed from Sailors and Farmers

The Sailors ("Les Matelots;" women take to menswear at the beach. 1931 cartoon, from The Way to Wear'em.

The Sailors (“Les Matelots”) and women wearing “beach pajamas” based on traditional French sailors’ trousers. 1931 cartoon, from The Way to Wear’em.

I’ve always been a fan of wide-legged trousers for women. [If the widest part of your body is the upper thigh, trousers that fit tightly at the ankle will make you look like a parenthesis ( ), the “Venus” of Willendorf, or her sister, the “Venus” of Lespugue, especially from the rear. If you hate wide-legged pants, a classic trouser that drops straight from outer thigh to foot is a flattering choice.]

Wide-legged trousers in "Sun and Sea Clothes," Woman's Home Companion, January 1936.

Wide-legged trousers in “Sun and Sea Clothes,” Woman’s Home Companion, January 1936.

There were plenty of wide-legged beach pajamas and even very dressy evening pajamas to choose from in the early and mid-nineteen thirties. To read more about evening pajamas, click here.

Sailor-influenced Trousers for Women

“The newest pyjamas for beachwear … look more like those of a Breton sailor….” (See cartoon, above.)

Sports dress No. 4275 and Sailor 'Pyjamas" No. 4268. Butterick patterns, Delineator, January 1932, p. 54.

Sports dress No. 4276 and Sailor ‘Pyjamas” No. 4268. Butterick patterns, Delineator, January 1932, p. 54. There is a clutch purse under the model’s left arm.

1932 jan p 54 pyjamas sailor 4268 butterick

The spellings “Pyjamas” and “Pajamas” were used interchangeably until “Pajamas” won out in in the U.S.

That Distinctive Front Opening on Sailors’ Trousers: The Fall Front

On Butterick # 4268, the two button flaps cleverly angle in toward the center of the waist, making the waist seem narrower (and the hips, wider….) The Vintage Traveler collected a pair of  store-bought 1930’s sailor pajamas and wrote about them here, with detailed photos.

In 18th century men’s breeches, the use of two openings is called a fall front, among other names. The Regency Fashions blog has a good, long article about men’s breeches and trouser closings. Professor Linda Przybyszewski showed this rare pair of denim work pants from the 1840’s at her blog, The Lost Art of Dress. In the U.S. Navy, button-fly trousers with a fall front were worn long after zippers came into general use. These Navy uniform pants date to the 1960’s.

[Digression:  I can’t resist describing Butterick dress pattern 4276 (above), which has an asymmetrical front view, and which cleverly used one of the back straps as a guide for the belt. And, surprise: the dress is not white, but green.]

1932 jan p 54 dress 4276

In 1934, Delineator magazine showed a similar pair of front-buttoned sailor “pajamas” in dark fabric:

Butterick sailor trousers pattern 4884, June 1934.

Butterick sailor-styled trouser pattern 4884, June 1934. “Navy cotton slacks with checkerboard shirt.”

They were called “slacks,” rather than pajamas, here.

The next month, Butterick offered a whole page of “Sailor Made Fashions.”

"Sailor Fashions" in Delineator, July 1934, p. 57.

“Sailor Made Fashions” in Delineator,  July 1934, p. 57.

Sailor suits, for little boys, and sailor middies (blouses) had been worn by children and in gym classes for decades, but here the sailor influence, from “laced” bodices to bell-bottomed trousers, is shown on grown women.

Butterick dresses 5801 (left) and 5769 (right.) Delineator, July 1934.

Butterick dresses 5801 (left) and 5769 (right.) Delineator, July 1934.

1934 july p 57 sailor dresses info text 5801

1934 july p 57 sailor dresses info text 5769

Butterick patterns 5784 (girl), 5779 (center) and 5796 (right.) July 1934 Delineator.

Butterick patterns 5784 (girl), 5772 (center) and 5796 (right.) Delineator, July 1934. Delineator.

1934 july p 57 sailor info text dress 5784

1934 july p 57 sailor info text slackd mess jacket5772

1934 july p 57 sailor info text 5796

Dresses with decorative “lacing” on the bodice were featured in The Delineator (1935) and the Berth Robert catalog (1934.)

Nautical influence on dresses: Butterick 6019 from January 1935, left, and the Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

Nautical influence on dresses: Butterick 6019 from January 1935, left, and the Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

You could even get that jaunty nautical look with just a borrowed car and a “little white hat of unmistakable origin.”

Woman wearing a sailor's cap, probably late 1930's.

Woman wearing a borrowed sailor’s cap, probably late 1930’s.

In 1934, you could order a pair of flared beach pajamas with metal buttons at the sides and a coordinating sailor-stripe top from the Berth Robert catalog for $3.95:

Beach outfit from Berth Robert catalog, 1934.

Sailor-inspired beach outfit from Berth Robert catalog, 1934. Decorative zipper closings on sportswear were already common.

Bib Overall Playsuits for Women

Farm family in an ad for Nujol, Delineator, April 1934.

Farm family in an ad for Nujol, Delineator, April 1934. These bib overalls are not a fashion statement, but their daily dress.

I seems strange that, while farmers were fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, bib overalls made their way into the fashion pages, where they remained in the form of lounge wear and playsuits until they became fully utilitarian in the factories of WW II.

"Evelyn Knapp, Warner Bros. Player, chooses this evening gown.... Pajamas for tennis are attractive and comfortable." Ad, Delineator, June 1932.

“Evelyn Knapp, Warner Bros. Player, chooses this evening gown…. Pajamas for tennis are attractive and comfortable.” Ad, Delineator, June 1932. (Wide legged pants for tennis are also dangerous.)

Below the bib, those side-buttoned “tennis pajamas” look like sailor slacks.

A model in overalls and a lot of bare skin was on the masthead page of Delineator in 1932.

A model wears beach pajamas resembling bib overalls in March 1932. Delineator.

A model wears beach pajamas resembling bib overalls in March 1932. Delineator.

The middle section of the outfit shows that these beach pajamas are not really like workers’ overalls:

1932. The seam lines, belt, and clinging hip band combine the lines of a dress with the idea of bib overalls.

1932. The seam lines, belt, and clinging hip band combine the lines of a dress with the idea of bib overalls.

In this story illustration by Oscar F. Schmidt, a young woman wears purely practical denim overalls:

Story illustration -- working girl in overalls meets salesman -- by Oscar F. Schmidt. Delineator, February 1936.

Story illustration — working farm girl in overalls meets salesman — by Oscar F. Schmidt. Delineator, February 1936.

 A playsuit combines sailor and straps in "Sea, Sun, and Sand" fashions, Delineator, June 1934.

A playsuit (“suspender shorts,” Butterick No. 5537) combines shortened sailor pants with a bib and straps in “Sea, Sun, and Sand” fashions, Delineator, June 1934.

This gardening outfit in a floral print looks as short as a normal 1930’s skirt, but has a bib-and-straps top:

Gardening outfit, photo by Arthur O'Neill for Woman's Home Companion. September 1936.

Gardening outfit, photo by Arthur O’Neill for Woman’s Home Companion. September 1936.

This unflattering playsuit from 1931 appeared in a Delatone depilatory ad. Delineator, August 1931.

This unflattering playsuit from 1931 appeared in a Delatone depilatory ad. Delineator, August 1931. It doesn’t appear to have a bib front; neither did some overall patterns for women.

Hollywood patterns issued a similar overall pattern, #734 (ostensibly for Joan Blondell) in 1934. Click here to see it.

This undated Anne Adams sewing pattern is both practical and more feminine than man’s overalls, with its heart-shaped front and a shorter playsuit option.

Anne Adams sewing pattern No. 4305. Circa 1930's or 40's.

Anne Adams sewing pattern No. 4305. Overalls or playsuit, circa 1930’s – 40’s. It buttons down one side.

More overall patterns from the thirties and forties can be found at the Commercial Pattern Archives; click here for Simplicity #3322 from 1940.

These female welders, working at a shipyard in Brooklyn during the second world war, are wearing man-styled heavy denim bib overalls.

Women welders at Todd Erie Basin shipyard, Brooklyn, WW II. National Archives photo from the book Rosie the Riveter, by Penny Colman.

Women welders at Todd Erie Basin shipyard, Brooklyn, WW II. National Archives photo from the book Rosie the Riveter, by Penny Colman.

At the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, where many women like these “Rosies” worked, a record 747 warships were “completed in two-thirds the amount of time and at a quarter of the cost of the average of all other shipyards.” These women were not playing. You can visit the Rosie the Riveter National Park in Richmond, or online.

 

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9 Comments

Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Women in Trousers

9 responses to “1930’s Beach Pajama Looks: Borrowed from Sailors and Farmers

  1. How very interesting! I always learn so much from your comprehensive posts. I didn’t know that Americans spelled pyjamas as pajamas! Nor all that stuff about the fall front. I think the bib and braces denim look is particularly American.

  2. Gia

    I thoroughly enjoyed the previous post about evening pyjamas and I thoroughly enjoyed this one as well! Thanks for all the fascinating information.

  3. A great research project would be to chart the usage of the the different names used for women’s pants from the 1910 through the 40s. Maybe someday if I have time!

    • A perfect project for your “spare” time…. Clothing vocabulary is always daunting — Vreeland apparently just made it up as she went along, and so do many other fashion writers. And there’s the British/American usage problem. Just yesterday I watched an old TV show whose main character wears a “string vest” — a type of sleeveless undershirt that signaled the opposite of “aristocratic.”

  4. My very favorite dress up pants in college were wool navy pants with a fall front (I now know) found at Goodwill. Hard to go to the bathroom in a hurry, but I loved the shape.

  5. Pingback: My Big Girl Pants – Really Big Pants | fojap

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