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Nov 13, 2012

Vintage Forties nightgowns or "Whatever Happened to the Peignoir?"



Readers, when discussing women's intimate apparel, it's important to define terms.  Here's what I've dug up:

Lingerie refers to all forms of underwear and sleepwear.  Originally it referred to things made of linen.

A negligee is something worn over something -- it generally means a light, often lace-trimmed dressing gown intended for the bedroom.  But it is also often used to define a set, consisting of peignoir (see below) and nightgown.

A peignoir, which originally meant a dressing gown worn when combing the hair, also refers to an outer garment, sometimes sheer.  The word is often used interchangeably with negligee.

Unlike a housecoat or robe, these items were meant for intimate settings and had erotic overtones, thanks in part to the slinky fabrics -- often cut on the bias for added cling -- they were made from.

Perhaps inspired by the ubiquity of rushed wartime weddings (and weekend-on-leave honeymoons) the peignoir set became a popular Forties trousseau item, arguably responsible for the baby boom. You can find vintage ones for sale on sites like Etsy.  The robe is usually gathered below the bosom and the high-waisted nightgown is trimmed with lace -- lovely.









No doubt Hollywood helped spread their popularity.







As you would guess, there were many negligee/peignoir-set sewing patterns, many of them very similar.  The best ones include a robe; sometimes there is a short bed jacket instead (or as an option).











I just picked up the pattern below on Etsy.  It was missing the strap piece and hence very affordable.



While I was shopping for harem girl fabrics last month, I spotted this lightweight peach poly satin at Fabric for Less and I had to pick up a few yards.  That peach color screams Forties to me.





Postwar, and into the Fifties, negligee styles changed.  The robe became fuller and more opulent, the nightgown less slinky and, just like Fifties fashion, exaggeratedly feminine but not particularly sexy.











Later still would come the baby doll -- the less said about that the better.

Even with the popularity here in the USA of chains like Victoria's Secret, I don't think the negligee has ever gotten over its association with stores like Fredericks of Hollywood and Fifties strippers, do you?

Readers, do you find Forties-style lingerie sexy and appropriate for today, or too fussy and frou-frou?

Do you now, or did you ever, wear a satin and chiffon peignoir set?   Would you like to?

Jump -- or slink -- in!

35 comments:

  1. I adore this kind of vintage nightwear/lounge wear. This is actually high on my list of things I'd like to sew for myself. Classy *and* sexy.

    Pyjama pants are comfortable, but they do not shout, "here is a classy dame who might sleep with you if you play your cards right".

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  2. I love this type of sleepwear, or, better, intimate wear. By the way, in Russian we still use this exact terminology. My mom had both, peignoir and négligée - and I always thought they looked fabulous; and I have been planning making my own, inspired by 40s - thanks for reminding :)

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  3. I love forties' style negligee. I've been looking - on and off- for a great vintage pattern to make one from. I just think some of the pjs that are popular today look idiotic and frumpy next to the amazing nightwear from the forites.

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  4. It depends... on who it's for. Would you believe that they had a pattern for one for little girls in the 80s? As in, this pattern would fit my four-year-old. *I* wouldn't mind wearing one because I think they're pretty and sexy, but there's no way in hell I'd make one for Grace. I've made her frilly nightgowns before, but there's a difference between that and a slinky one a la 40s pinup.

    But well, it's an Enchanted Forest pattern, and those run the gambit between cute and far out there!

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  5. I would totally love to do "loungewear," but HOW do you do it? Women from this genre had a lot of down time. I don't remember the last time I had time to lounge or dress so slow and deliberate and housework is done in sweats. So maybe this sweats is the noveau loungewear....

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  6. When I was first married [let's not ask how many years ago that was!] I owned a couple of peignoir sets. I always felt ultra-feminine and sexy when wearing them. Then came children. And a drastic change in my [shall we say] physique. Followed by divorce a few years later. Styles began to change, and it seemed the idea of sexy nighties simply went out of vogue. Working 14-16 hour days left me exhausted. Who cared? I remarried [again....let's not ask how many years ago that was!] and for a while sexy negligees came back. Today... busy schedules mean t-shirt night dresses or warm pj's. But after reading this.... maybe it's time to get out the patterns and start contemplating a sexy nighty again! Thanks for reminding me just how lovely bedroom attire can be!

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  7. These types of garments always remind me of my mother. She always wore a slinky, lacey nightgown even in the dead of winter. I didn't get it when I was a child! These nightgowns were always given to her by my father. She would usually where a practical housecoat or quilted robe on top. (After all,she still needed to make us all breakfast.)

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  8. I'm not huge on '40s styles for myself personally, but I can never figure out where to fit one of these into my wardrobe! You can't really sleep in the nightgown half (or at least I can't, I get all wound up in it) so it isn't practical, and the robes often feel too covered up for something sexy, but at the same time I'm not going to stroll around getting ready for my day in a giant sheer tent.
    My solution was a '40s silk asian robe. The fabric and side slits keep it sexy but I wouldn't feel uncomfortable answering the door in it either. Plus it has an amazing dragon embroidered on the back!

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  9. I've always loved vintage lingerie. There's something so timeless and sexy about it. It accents the curves of a women yet is not too revealing. I love wearing garter belts and stockings. Pantyhose are so uncomfortable and prudish.

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  10. I had a beautiful vintage gown made from bias-cut peach-colored silk when I was in high school/college, back when my vintage collection was significantly larger than it is now and when I could fit in the stuff. *grin* Anyway, it was great for several reasons - it had adjustable lingerie-type straps with elastic on the back portion of the straps, it had a lovely hand-rolled hem done with a scallop technique, the term for which I've forgotten, and it had some very pretty tonal embroidery on the front. Interestingly, it wasn't gathered and thankfully it didn't have any lace at all, as that would have ruined its simplicity. I wore it a lot, until my figure changed (ahem!).

    I've purchased 2 modern gowns - one navy poly satin with lace cups and straps, and one ivory poly-satin with a high-necked lace front and an open back with satin straps. Both made me feel wonderful. Alas, neither fits at the moment, though I still have them.

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  11. When I was first married I wore my peignoir sets occasionally.
    Now, between my husband's work hours and having teenagers in the house...I don't even know where they are anymore.

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  12. I can't deal with much fabric in my sleepwear so I couldn't wear any of these to sleep but I've found a few of them that work wonderfully for slips. They work wonderfully for when the slip might be seen or glimpsed like under dresses with slightly too much cleavage bearing and since they're opaque (often) I can wear comfortable undergarments and still feel all feminine and vavavoom. And in my local thrift shop, the peignors and the robes for them always last longer on the racks than things labeled "slips".

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  13. I just started working on a lace kimono and am planning a matching slip/night gown from a vintage pattern from the 40's. So I guess this whole thing is right up my alley! The 50's have too much froth for my taste.

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  14. Ooh lala! We saw a production if Blithe Spirit in the West End last year where Elvir wore a pale grey lace and chiffon peignoir of extreme 40'sness. I loved it but felt it unsuitable for the character. However, a good 12 year ago, I saw a production of Design for Living in which the leading lady charged about in a dusky pink and grey sating robe so delicious, I went to buy some to make my own - found the two coloured satins together at the end of the row where I suspect they were replaced by fabric shop staff after the last sale to the costumier for the play! :) I made a very 1940's style gown with A-line skirt, fitted bodice, large shawl collar and long sleeves. Crossover and button at the waist. Loved it, wore it out.
    I've just made the connection - Noel Coward, dear old fruit, has had far more influence on my choice of intimate wear than he would ever care to know about!

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  15. I remember digging through my mothers pattern stash and pulling out something I thought would be perfect to make for the upcoming winterball. She looked over my shoulder and commented oh I made that nightie once. Oh!

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  16. I am the proud owner of three lovely peignoir sets, one red and two different black lace. My husband requested one ("you should get one of those") after we saw some 40's movie with a glamourous woman lounging about in one. I feel very sexy in them, and do my best to radiate the requsite glamour, LOL. I don't sleep in them, I just wear them around of an evening, once in a while. ;-)
    ~Kelly

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  17. I'm not sure about these garments. I see the erotic appeal for sure, but having actually worn slinky things for occasions like that, I can tell you they end up either in the way or balled up at the foot of the bed. When it comes to actual sleep, there is way too much fabric for me. I sleep in a singlet and knickers for comfort and I really don't like the feel of silk on my skin. I'm sure lots of people do really wear them, though.

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  18. Love the topic. My bronchitis is proving useful for stash organizing, as too weak to sew. I do have 3 helpers too. I have been looking at my lingerie patterns. I have a lot of vintage Style ones, and others. Some of the 60's are very pretty. I hate frothy. I do have a peignoir Hubster bought me, in ivory satin, with same colour designs woven in. I did have another similar when lived with my son. It was pretty, and discreet, like a silk kimono. Hubster also bought me a red kimono with back embroidery. We need this fun. How about silk tap pants too. I have made 2, and love them. Cathie, in Quebec.

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  19. I would love a dress out of so many of those patterns! I also stopped wearing nightgowns a long time ago, like when I was 13 (I'm 39 now). I couldn't take any more of the bunching up around my waist or armpits. If I could get adult-sized sleepers, I would.
    But these garments are so, so beautiful! I have a vintage bed jacket in ivory that I wear as a little jacket to work. Handmade lace and all :)

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  20. I love them. My relatives wore them, but to be honest they were just not practical. However, they had sets with fancy slippers that they walked around in at home alone. I wear old sweats and my husbands tee-shirt. They would be appalled.

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  21. When I was, oh, 13? 14? I desperately wanted a peignoir set (although I didn't know that word). Finally, my mother bought me a set, probably from Sears. It was dark green with ivory lace. A sort of nylon tricot meshy thing (this was the late 70s). NOT satin. But I loved it. I rarely wore it, though. It just didn't make me look like those Hollywood starlets. I really thought it would! *sigh* I'm 48 now and still trying.

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  22. When I was a kid, my sister and I wore my dead great-grandmother's nightgown and peignoir sets. Mine was peach and my sister's was powder blue.

    I didn't find out until later that my bed had belonged to the same dead great-grandmother. I didn't ask if she had died in her sleep because I was afraid that the answer would be yes!

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  23. I totally have sexy lounge wear and really want to make a peignor. Really really. But I also have a late 30's, early 40's style robe pattern with just-below-elbow sleeves that are the perfect length for doing dishes and cooking that I could wear over a silk slip. I'd totally do this at home, too.

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  24. I love vintage peignoir sets and own several gowns and matching robes - 40s and 50s ones - and I agree that the 40s ones are the most elegant.

    I wear them around the house once I get home from work - comfortable, elegant and sexy. But I wouldn't sleep in them...

    My favourite one I wore whilst getting ready for my wedding - its a beautiful cream bias cut gown with a matching chiffon and lace robe with a beautiful row of satin buttons at the bust. The perfect wedding item I think, I felt beautiful, relaxed and elegant all day.

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    Replies
    1. That sounds GREAT...and very good for you...

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  25. Love the forties style pegnoir sets! My mother always wore them when I was young. Well, on the weekends--usually Sunday morning. She was tall and always looked elegant, regardless of what she wore!

    I still love the 40s pegnoirs for myself, but I have to be very careful with proportions. I look like the pale, freckled, redhaired girl next door who grew up looking pretty much the same! *LOL* And I'm short. *sigh* If I'm not careful, I look like a little girl dressing up in her mother's clothing! *rolleyes*

    Taja

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  26. That first photo makes me snicker - instep straps with a peignoir! Sorry, Hollywood, mules are what you need with a getup like that, so that when the proper romantic moment comes, a lady can gracefully slip out of them and get her freak on without stopping to unbuckle.

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  27. I used to wear sets from the 40s around the house. I agree that 50s and beyond, some terrible, unflattering things happened. I like nighties and sets from WWII and before. Now, though, if want to feel boudoir foufy I wear a vintage slip and one of the robes I've made. Slips are often decorated, easier to come by, and cheaper :)

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  28. My mother had a set in the late fifties in powder blue. I think it dated from the 40's when before she married my dad. I don't remember her wearing the peignor but every Saturday morning she'd let me wear it around the house - I loved walking up and down the stairs in it with the back like a train.

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  29. I just want to wear nightgowns in general. Thinking something like a modified peasant blouse would be comfortable, and less sloppy than what I normally wear (menswear style pj's). The vintage stuff is FAB!

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  30. Lovely. I'm reminded of the novel/movie Rebecca. Nightgowns embroidered by cloistered Nuns. A negligee so fine you could see your hand through it. I'm betting Daphne wore a Peignoir or two.

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  31. Hot Patterns has a nice line called "Boudoir of Bliss" with the added advantage of modern sizing. I'm always torn between beauty and practicality and usually end up wearing something loose and nondescript, usually out of style tee-shirts because I'm too cheap for a "real" nightgown and hey, they're still good. Winter however forces me into flanel jammies. Not sexy but I convinced my husband by making him some too !!!

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  32. I simply love them. Sadly, I'm a little too round in shape for most of the true vintage ones. (That's one reason I'm learning to sew. I love many of the forties and fifties fashions. Maybe I can recreate some of them new.) I do have a negligee set that I bought some years ago--it's not vintage, and it's not silk, but it's pretty, I think.

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  33. Is it weird that I finally wore a negligee to bed and LOVED it??? I bought it years ago at a thrift, lace on top with an open back, button closure at the back-neck, and a long nylon skirt. Turns out it's one of the most comfortable nightgowns I've ever worn! Can't put it on too early, though; don't want to traumatize my room-mate with my nipples :P

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