Lush silk pyjamas are the perfect way to stay in and dress up this winter… but can you really give them a machine-wash?
Why lush silk pyjamas are the perfect way to stay in and dress up this winter
By Alexandra Shulman
Let’s face it, January has little to recommend it apart from being the perfect time to indulge in a pair of silk pyjamas. They don’t even have to be pure silk — crepe de chine, satin, even, frankly, a smidgeon of polyester is acceptable.
The main thing is that they should glide and slither over the body in a delicious and some might say impractical manner. But anyone making that observation would be missing the point.
The point of silk pyjamas, the reason they have held such allure over the decades, is that with their weighty, slippery smoothness and their wafting hems, they are a piece of clothing that lifts us out of the humdrum.
Alexandra Shulman reveals how silk pyjamas became trendy as they become a way of getting dressed up to stay in. Pictured: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in a pair by M&S
What more can you ask from a garment whose very purpose is leisure and lounging? Especially now, when opportunities for dressing up to go out are rare. In silk pyjamas you can dress up to stay in.
It was the 19th century when a type of pyjama first became popular in Western society. Introduced from the East, where traders and explorers first encountered them, pae jamas were essentially a loose drawstring pant. In hot climates these were everyday wear, but once imported back home they became nightwear — not for women but for men, who began to swap their long nightshirts for these trousers, which indicated that you were a cultured, well-travelled type of guy.
Fast-forward to the 20th century and the different climate post-World War I. Women, whose dress had always been so restrictive and designed almost deliberately to hamper their movements, with layers of undergarments and trailing hems, began to have different lives. Lives that were more like those of men.
They could drive cars, they worked in offices, they had bank accounts, they travelled abroad and their clothes reflected this new status. They were more free to move.
The first fashionable women’s pyjamas were for the wealthy, whose lifestyle included travel and, specifically, time spent at the beach — Biarritz, Palm Beach, Gatsby’s Long Island. It was, predictably, Coco Chanel, with her beady eye on the culture of the times, who took pyjamas mainstream.
She wasn’t the first to design them — master couturier Paul Poiret had for years produced richly decorated silk pyjamas for privileged clients — but she spotted the valuable role for pyjamas in the new transitory moments of the day.
Alexandra believes Coco Chanel (pictured), with her beady eye on the culture of the times, took pyjamas mainstream
An American Vogue article of 1927 describes how in Florida’s Palm Beach ‘many women change three times each morning, from dress to bathing-suit and then into pyjamas’.
Pyjamas, which are after all loose jackets and trousers, were perfect to wear from beach cover to the first sundowner. In cities, they were worn to meet people before dressing for dinner.
And it is these glamorous pyjamas that we lust after. Not the bobbly grandad Viyella pairs of old, perfectly accessorized with pipe and slippers.
Nor, heaven forbid, the frightful pairing of a T-shirt-style top with baggy leggings that at some stage in the last decade became a sleepwear option.
Not even (although I personally have a fondness for them) prep-school striped cotton. No. Today’s most desirable pyjamas are in lush satin, and a far more welcome gift than a box of tissue-wrapped red or black or even oyster lace lingerie.
Alexandra said the fact that pyjamas make us feel good can also make us attractive to those around us. Pictured: Kirsten Dunst
It’s pretty hard to argue that pyjamas, no matter how sumptuous the fabric or exotic the pattern, have that same glaring, traffic-light sexuality of lace underwear. A baggy shirt and pants, even in silk, don’t always strike quite the same note in the red-blooded man that some other, more revealing items might. But that doesn’t mean that all men dislike them.
After all, many Hollywood screen goddesses wafted around in silk pyjamas. And anyway, these are a self-indulgent treat and the fact that they make us feel good can also make us attractive to those around us. Even men who might theoretically prefer their bedmate in a sliver of skimpy something or other. I owned my first silk pyjamas only a few years ago, when I was at Vogue and Dolce & Gabbana gifted all the fashion editors a pair, monogrammed with their initials.
Mine were in a dashing, vivid chartreuse and, unlike some of my colleagues, I wore them in the hotel room rather than the front row because, unlike them, I hadn’t spotted that silk pyjamas were a new fashion item.
Alexandra admits she has resented moments where she has had to swap her pyjamas for proper clothes in recent months. Pictured: Audrey Tautou
That was 2016 and now, six years on, I’m often to be found contemplating a new pair. I have to admit to a hankering for the crazy glam of a feather-trimmed pair of Sleepers I’ve spotted on Net-a-porter and fantasise about a richly patterned set by Olivia von Halle, the queen of luxury PJs.
But, in the meantime, I’m in love with a pair a friend gave me recently, from the slightly more affordable silkwear catalogue Patra. They are in a flattering blush-tinted cream, with a fine pink silk trim, and manage to be both beautifully light yet not remotely transparent, loose but not bulky.
I’ve pottered happily around the house wearing them over recent months, slightly resenting the moment I have to swap them for some proper clothes.
And they’re the best pair I’ve ever had for sleeping in, emerging uncreased to greet the day, unlike much of the rest of me.
…but can you really give them a machine-wash?
By India Sturgis
Popularised by the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Amanda Holden and model Gigi Hadid, the trend for silk pyjamas is booming. But washing them is fraught with risk.
The fibres are prone to snagging and the colours can run, so it’s no surprise silk brands tell us to dry-clean only or hand-wash. Until now, that is. Suddenly the High Street is awash with sophisticated sets that promise they can be washed in the machine, tumble-dried and even — gasp! — ironed.
In fact, according to fabric technologist Mairwen Jones, the reason we’re advised to dry-clean rather than machine-wash some silks is not always down to the fabric itself, which is a natural protein fibre usually produced by silkworms to build their cocoons.
‘It’s more often about protecting the brand,’ she explains. ‘A dry-clean label protects against a company having to accept and replace returns if the fabric shrinks or the colour runs when a garment is washed at home.
‘Many brands don’t have the systems in place to deal with that. Mass-market retailers such as H&M do lots of fabric tests, such as colour-fastness for machine-washing, as they buy such large quantities — for others it is simply not economical, or viable.’
Still, surely some silks wash better than others? Maybe slightly, says Mairwen, but that’s mostly dependent on thickness — thicker washes better — and whether they have embellishments or sensitive trimmings rather than anything else. Most silk, if treated gently and washed at 30 degrees or less, with the correct non-biological detergent, will manage OK being carefully washed on its own.
It helps, too, that recent fabric processing advances mean dyes last better and fibres are more tightly woven and less prone to shrinkage. Ultimately, retailers are becoming more confident their silk will withstand your wash cycle.
Here, Femail puts three machine-washable silk pyjama sets to the test, following their washing and drying instructions to the letter.
So how did they fare in terms of shrinkage, fading, wrinkles and wear and tear?
SHADE & TEXTURE TOTALLY CHANGED
Arket silk pyjama shirt, £79, and pyjama bottoms, £79, arket.com
India Sturgis said the colour of Arket silk pyjama shirt and bottoms looked faded after washing and the finish was not as shiny. Pictured left: Before, right: After
Available in off-white or black, this satin-smooth 100 per cent silk is a loose fit, longer at the back, with wide cuffs and legs.
The silk is thin, looks very shiny and was a bit rougher than others. It wrinkled pre-wash.
The care instructions are to wash at or below 30c with a mild detergent, tumble-dry on low and iron on medium.
After washing: The colour looked faded — a different shade — and the finish was not as shiny.
Verdict: Faded badly. Extra mark for post-wash softness and iron and tumble-dry-ability. 3/5
SHRANK AFTER A GENTLE CYCLE
Me + Em eco silk sheep print pyjama set, £395 down to £276, meandem.com
India said Me + Em eco silk sheep print pyjama set felt tighter and shorter after washing. Pictured left: Before, right: After
This was the thickest and smoothest silk tested, and the most crease-resistant. With details like navy piping, a wide stripe following the leg line and a joyous sheep print, the set looks almost too good for bed.
The fabric is listed as 100 per cent eco silk. Washing instructions are a gentle machine-wash. I used a silk detergent on the same cycle as the others tested.
After washing: The top felt shorter and tighter and the trousers came up slightly and felt tighter at the top.
Verdict: Beautiful but shrank a bit after machine-washing. If in doubt, go a size up.3/5
SOFT, SHINY SILK IS STILL INTACT
Yolke classic silk pyjama set in jade, £345 down to £240, yolke.co.uk
India said Yolke classic silk pyjama set in jade had the same colour and texture after washing. Pictured left: Before, right: After
Cut from the fashionable brand’s signature blend of stretch silk, these feel light but still luxurious.
The composition is 94 per cent silk and 6 per cent spandex. These were ultra-shiny pre-wash. Yolke says use a delicate cool wash with a silk detergent.
After washing: Body, colour and texture remained the same. They still hung well, but were very minimally more snug. Almost no wrinkles.
Verdict: Impressive. 4/5