All about pyjamas

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A little Muslim girl in India wearing paijamas and kurti (litograph from Emily Eden's Portraits of the Princes and People of India, 1844)

Pyjama in American English, spelled pyjama in most other countries (see spelling differences), often shortened to PJs, jimjams or jammies, can refer to several related types of clothing. Pyjamas are loose-fitting, two-piece garments derived from the original garment and worn chiefly for sleeping, but sometimes also for lounging, also by both sexes. More generally, pyjamas may refer to several garments, for both daywear and nightwear, derived from traditional pyjamas and involving variations of style and material.

The word pyjama or pyjama was incorporated into the English language from c. 1800 through the Hindustani pajāmā, itself from the Persian word pāy-jāmeh lit. "leg-garment"). The original pajāmā are loose, lightweight trousers fitted with drawstring waistbands worn by Muslims in India and adopted by Europeans there.


Traditional pyjamas consist of a jacket-and-trousers combination made of soft fabric, such as flannel. The jacket element usually has a placket front and its sleeves have no cuffs. For a number of reasons (increased freedom of movement, aesthetic appeal, etc.) many men opt to sleep or lounge barechested in just the pyjama trousers.

In colloquial speech, these traditional pyjamas are often called PJs, jim jams, or jammies; while in South Asia and South Africa, they are sometimes referred to as night suits.

Some pyjamas feature a drop seat (also known as a trap door or butt flap): a buttoned opening in the seat, designed to allow the wearer to conveniently use a toilet. Drop seats were very common on pyjamas made before the 1950s, but today they are rather rare.

Contemporary pyjamas are derived from traditional pyjamas. There are many variations in style such as short sleeve pyjamas, pyjama bottoms of varying length, or, on occasion, one-piece pyjamas, and pyjamas incorporating various materials.

Chiefly in the US, stretch-knit sleep apparel with rib-knit trimmings are common. Usually worn by children, these garments often have pullover tops (if two-piece) or have zippers down the fronts (if one-piece), and may also be footed.

Although pyjamas are usually distinguished from non-bifurcated sleeping garments such as nightgowns, in the US, they can sometimes include the latter, as in babydoll pyjamas.

Pyjamas may today refer to women's combination daywear, consisting of short-sleeved or sleeveless blouses and lightweight trousers. Examples of these include capri pyjamas, beach pyjamas, and hostess pyjamas.


Pyjamas are usually loose fitting and designed for comfort, using soft materials such as cotton or the more luxurious silk or satin. Synthetic materials such as polyester and Lycra are also available.


Pyjamas often contain visual references to a thing that may hold some special appeal to the wearer. Images of sports, animals, balloons, polka dots, flowers, stripes, plaids, foulards, paisleys and other motifs may all be used to decorate them. Pyjamas may also be found in plainer designs, such as plaid or plain gray, but when worn in public, they are usually designed in such a way that makes their identity unambiguous. Older styles of children's pyjamas have been depicted as having a square button-up flap covering the buttocks.


Pyjamas are often worn with bare feet and sometimes without underwear. They are often worn as comfort wear even when not in bed, and are also sometimes worn as a fashion statement. Some people have started to wear pyjama pants in public as fashion. In eastern China, it is not unusual in the late afternoon or evening, for adults to wear their pyjamas in public around their local neighborhood. The supermarket Tesco in St Mellons, Cardiff, United Kingdom started a ban on customers wearing pyjamas in January 2010. In January 2012, a local Dublin branch of the Government's Department of Social Protection advised that pyjamas were not regarded as appropriate attire when attending the office for welfare services.


The word pyjama was incorporated into the English language via Hindustani. The word originally derives from Persian meaning 'leg-garment'. The word originally referred to loose trousers tied around the waist.

The worldwide use of pyjamas (the word and the garment) is the result of British presence in India in the 18th and 19th centuries, and British influence on the wider Western world during the Victorian era. Pyjamas had been introduced to England as "lounging attire" as early as the 17th century, then known as mogul's breeches (Beaumont and Fletcher) but they soon fell out of fashion again. The word pyjama (as pai jamahs, Paee-jams and variants) is recorded in English use in the first half of the 19th century, but they only become a fashion in Britain and the Western world as a sleeping attire for men in the Victorian period, from about 1870.

Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases (1886) summarizes the state of usage at the time (s.v. "pyjammas"):

Such a garment is used by various persons in India e.g. by women of various classes, by Sikh men, and most by Mohammedans of both sexes. It was adopted from the Mohammedans by Europeans as an article of dishabille and of night attire, and is synonymous with Long Drawers, Shulwaurs, and Mogul-Breeches [...] It is probable that we English took the habit like a good many others from the Portuguese. Thus Pyrard (c. 1610) says, in speaking of Goa Hospital: "Ils ont force calsons sans quoy ne couchent iamais les Portugais des Indes" [...] The word is now used in London shops. A friend furnishes the following reminiscence: "The late Mr. B—, tailor in Jermyn Street, some on 40 years ago, in reply to a question why pyjammas had feet sewn on to them (as was sometimes the case with those furnished by London outfitters) answered: 'I believe, Sir, it is because of the White Ants.


Celebrities have played a major role in influencing the public to wear pyjamas in public. Big names such as Rihanna, Ryan Gosling, Miranda Kerr, Jessica Alba, Rachel Bilson, Cara Delevingne and many others have all been spotted at events and movie premieres wearing sleepwear numbers. Featuring in the gossip magazines, these celebs were instrumental in starting the pyjamas in public trend. Another influential factor in the public pyjama display is the fact that social pressure has changed. Social pressure is not as powerful as it used to be a few decades ago with people caring less about their public appearance. The reason is that the social norms of what’s acceptable and what’s not have changed considerably. Allowing people to dress more freely as they desire.

In January 2012, Michael Williams, a commissioner in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, USA proposed an ordinance prohibiting people from wearing pyjamas in public. Caddo Parish already has a law against wearing sagging pants below the waist, but Williams is pushing for a law against pyjama pants after seeing a group of young men wearing loose fitting pyjama pants that were about to show their private parts. According to Williams, "The moral fiber in our community is dwindling. If not now, when? Because it's pyjama pants today, next it will be underwear tomorrow.”

Williams’ concerns are reflected in many school and work dress codes. Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, USA banned pyjamas in 2011, concerned that they could be a safety hazard.


  • Author Lucy Maud Montgomery, touches upon how pyjamas were viewed by the Canadian provincial culture in her 1931 novel, A Tangled Web: "The night before, as he was sitting on his bed, studying if there were any way to wheedle the secret out of Dandy Dark, he had absently put both feet into one pyjama leg. Then when he stood up he fell on the floor in what his terrified wife at first thought was a fit. Very few of the clan sympathized with him as to his resulting shoulder. They thought it served him right for wearing new-fangled duds. If he had had a proper nightshirt on it couldn't have happened."
  • The Pyjama Game was a Broadway musical and film highlighting workers at a pyjama factory.
  • Pyjamas played a prominent role on a popular kids television show known as Bananas in Pyjamas. The show detailed the adventures of two bananas while wearing their pyjamas.
  • Pyjamas Media is an online advertising and publishing company created by bloggers Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson. The term derives from CNN president Jonathan Klein's 2004 dismissal of bloggers as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas."
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 novel about a Jewish boy in a concentration camp, written from the perspective of an innocent son of the camp's commander who befriends him. The commander's son at first believes that the Jew's striped clothes are pyjamas, hence the name of the book.

Girl in short sleeve PJs; doll in traditional

Boys in stretch-knit pyjamas

Toddler in footed pyjamas

Courier in white paijama, India, 1844

Men in white paijama with hunting cheetahs, India 1844

Muslim men in paijamas (various styles), Bombay, 1867

Muslim woman, in Sind, British India, in salwar style pyjamas, 1870

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