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Jan 17, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Bed Jacket?


Friends, when is the last time you saw someone wear a bed jacket who wasn't starring in a 1940's film noir?

The bed jacket harks back to a time when many women (Lord knows, not all) weren't in any particular rush to get anywhere in the morning.  A bed jacket was something to lounge in when you weren't quite ready for a full length robe (or peignoir).  Today, the very idea of lounging at all seems to have gone the way of the bed jacket.

The front copy on the vintage McCall's bed jacket pattern below aptly defines its purpose:


To look pretty in, to be warm and comfy breakfasting in bed -- 
or reading in bed, there's nothing lovelier than your hand-quilted jacket.

The bed jacket was part of a lady's boudoir, along with a (preferably large) vanity mirror, cut crystal perfume bottles, frilly nightgowns, and satin bedroom slippers.  It had a purpose, but a very narrow one.




Bed jacket sewing patterns were ubiquitous in the 1930's and 40's, still around in the 1950's and 60's, and had all but vanished in the 1970's for reasons you can probably figure out.  The woman who once would loll about in a bed jacket chatting on the telephone extension or sipping tea was, by this time, more likely to be running off to work.

Bed jacket patterns went out with old-fashioned ideas about femininity, daintiness, and Hollywood-style glamour.  Nobody wears a bed jacket for a Tinder hookup, right?  They were the type of sewing project that involved hand-sewn embellishment techniques like embroidery, smocking, and quilting which, I'd argue, many more female sewers knew how, and were willing, to do.  It's also a lot about finding the time.








In closing, friends, I ask you:

1) Do you now or have you ever worn a bed jacket similar to those above? 

2) Do you remember anyone you know wearing a bed jacket -- mother, grandmother, closeted uncle?

3) Is the modern day equivalent of the bed jacket, a) a snuggie; b) a sweatshirt, c) central heating?

Is it time for the return of this glamorous garment?

Jump in!


BONUS: Name the celebrities featured above for extra credit!

78 comments:

  1. Yes, I knew -- and know -- women who wear this sort of garment. Next time you visit the women's wing of a horsepistol, or go to see a relative/neighbor/friend in a nursing home, you'll see them. Much prettier than regulation hospital gowns, for those women stuck in a mechanical bed long enough that they are well enough to receive visitors. Easier to manage than a bathrobe, in bed.

    And for the homebound or nursing home resident who must be confined to a bed for long periods of time, it is often the only fashion statement they are any longer able to sport.

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    1. As a retired nurse I well remember these - especially those worn by the ladies in the private wing, who definitely rocked the embroidery, smocking, quilted and feathered versions! And yes, I, my mother and my grandmother all had less fancy version - when you live in the no central heatingUK, you needed something round your shoulders while drinking your early morning tea, before jumping out of bed to start all jobs for the day And both my mother and grandmother worked

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  2. Is one of the celebs Lucille Ball?

    Vintage patterns do absolutely nothing for me - except maybe make me a bit angry. This era (one of many) was not one that was kind to my community so I am not drawn to these images. That said, I had no idea there was such a thing as a bedroom jacket.

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    1. It's a bed jacket, not bedroom jacket. My mother used to have awful migraine headaches and wore a simple bed jacket because she said it didn't twist and bunch under her like a robe would. Please don't take offense; reminders of any era can have cruel edges.

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  3. I had no idea that the scalloped hem and sleeves were the rage on the Advance pattern for bed jackets! Dislike the necktie closing-I'd prefer a bustline button and second button beneath it.
    Cannot recall the bed jacket but I think a late family friend (senior) had a housecoat that was a pastel with quilted shoulders (off the rack iteM) that she wore when she was not feeling well enough to dress for the day nor go out.
    Does your mother have bed jacket memories, Peter?
    Celebrities-I only recognize Lucille Ball between #357 and McCalls 1018 pattern pics.

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  4. My granny wore one. We wore old cardigans as children as the house was FREEZING! Margaret (in chilly Scotland where there was no central heating in the 1950s)

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  5. I own and wear a bed jacket. I like to get changed in the evenings and sit on the couch with my husband and read or watch tv (sometimes before the children have gone to bed). When wearing more revealing night gowns, I prefer to wear a bed jacket as a cover and I am more comfortable than in a robe (unless it is cold in which I go with the robe).

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  6. My grandmother had some of these. And silky nightgowns, well into her late 80s.

    I don't have bed jackets specifically, but I did sew up 2 short robes when my daughter was born - if I'm going to be awake breastfeeding in bed at 6am, I'm going to have pretty fabric wrapped around my shoulders, and ideally a husband who brings me a latte. Priorities. ;)

    Still something I'd recommend - pulling something nice over a nursing tank top made sitting in a hospital bed post-birth feel a lot more... civilized?... than sitting there in a hospital gown.

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  7. For warmth, I wear a fleece cardigan (Kwik-Sew 3379) over my short-sleeve cotton pajamas. I cannot imagine wearing anything silky or frilly as loungewear .......

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  8. Celebrities-1st one-?, 2nd one- Lucille Ball and 3rd- Betty Grable.

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  9. I've been wanting to make something like this of late, mostly because I've been getting up early to deal with my cat's health issues and don't want or need a full robe to do that.

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  10. I haven't worn one, or seen one worn. I think they would be practical for someone in the hospital or nursing home. For me, they seem less practical than a peignoir or robe, though if I could spend time sitting in bed in the morning sipping tea, I am sure they would be appreciated. Sadly, we live in an unromantic, unglamorous and vulgar age, and this luxury is denied me.

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  11. You must have access to my mind! I was just remembering bed jackets while trying to read in bed in our cold house over the past several nights. I am 74 and owned and made several in my younger days! My favorite was a quilted sateen with 3/4 sleeves and buttons up the front. They should be revived as energy conservers if nothing else.

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  12. snuggies the modern equivalent although more reviled. i need to make one, because my hoodies arent comfortable around the waist when lounging in bed with a book. i already made a boudoir cap that hangs on my bedpost when not in use.

    and i caught lucille ball but thats it.

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  13. Is that Debbie Reynolds in the maribou?

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  14. I remember going with my mother to the dress shop to purchase one for grandmother, who was in the nursing home, in the 70s. I have thought about bed jackets a time or two when reading in bed, but instead I just pull on a fleece, it serves the purpose.

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  15. I made two of this sort of garment, only as a capelette style, in fleece with satin blanket binding as the trim and tie. One for my mother-in-law who was 93 and who enjoyed sitting with a little something over her shoulders. I made one for me to wear following surgery and made mine in a style with arms. The capelette is easier to wear in bed, the one with arms easier to wear around the house.

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  16. I have a silk satin bedjacket that my unmarried aunt used to wear in the forties and fifties -- she spent a great deal of time in her bedroom (I also have her dressing table, with a glass top and ruffled fabric skirt).

    I also have a white cotton bedjacket with a ruffle around the neck and down the front that I made myself to wear over my sleeveless white cotton nightgowns. In the summer I wear it while I eat breakfast: it allows me to feel decent without being too hot. In the winter I wear it to bed with a nightgown, to keep warm. I think all nightwear should be sold as separates, so that you can layer according to temperature requirements. Also, although I wear very serviceable and minimalist styles during the day, in the bedroom I have to say I love very feminine fabrics and styles that are also comfortable.

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  17. I know what a bed jacket is but can't remember ever having come across one in the flesh so to speak, I suspect it is central heating, which has done for the bed jacket, that and the disappearance of the concept of modesty in dress? Who ever thinks to cover up in their own bedroom? I only recognised Lucille ball.

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  18. I'm wearing a bed jacket right now. It is called a cardigan. Boo! Love the images. Love the idea, and wish my closeted uncle had left me one of his.

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  19. Funny that you included a photo of Lucy. The first time I ever saw a bed jacket was during an I Love Lucy rerun when I was very young. I remember telling my mother I thought it was silly. What was the point? Just use a blanket. Now I think they’re lovely and glamorous.

    I never saw anyone in real life wear a bed jacket – even when my mother was in hospital for weeks.
    I think the modern equivalent might be a hoodie. Or I just like to wrap a blanket around me while I read or watch TV.

    If I had the time for such luxurious lounging, I’d happily wear one.

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  20. I never even knew there was such a thing.

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  21. My mother and her sisters gave each other bed jackets as gifts for baby showers - a nice gift for the mama who would spend a week or more in the hospital. When my kids were born we were out of the hospital in 8 hours. I barely had enough time to put pants on.

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  22. My mother used to make them for people who were sick enough to stay in bed. IN the 80s, a quilted bolero similar to bed jackets was a fashion flare. Periodically, people notice the price of fuel oil and wear 3 sweaters, 2 bed jackets and a blanket to stay warm. Style doesn't seem to matter much when I'm cold.

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  23. I think I have one of these. I grew up in nightgowns and robes. But, my mom had several lingerie sets from the 60s in England that she didn't wear. I found a lot of them when we were cleaning out her closet. And, she only ever wore them in the hospital. I don't think I knew what it was called!

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  24. "Or in albatross if you need something warmer"? What the heck is "albatross"? McCalls 509

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    1. Albatross is a worsted fabric which takes its name from the fact that it resembles the soft downy feathers of the underside of an albatross bird. It is constructed from a plain weave with both the warp and weft yarns generally being cotton. The end fabric has a fleecy surface and this is created by the fabric being finished by burling, shearing, washing singing and dying. The fabric is then rinsed, dried and pressed. Albatross fabric is usually white, or black or plain dyed. It is not generally printed on. It is a lightweight fabric and is used in dressmaking.
      (SOURCE: http://www.catwalkyourself.com/fashion-dictionary/albatross/)

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  25. I wore one post-partum. They make very nice nursing jackets. And yes - much nicer over one's hospital gown (and more modest) than ... another gown (which is what the hospital will give you).

    Consider that the lady in those photos would need to be presentable to people in her sickbed... I think that's mostly where one wears such a thing, rather than for a lazy morning.

    Replaced by? Central heating.

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  26. I am 69 years old. I was given a lovely quilted silk bed jacket when I was in the hospital in 1983. My mom gave it to me. It was the perfect thing to sit in bed, do crossword puzzles and keep my shoulders warm. She bought it at Saks.

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  27. I've always kind of wanted one. Totally frou-frou but still.

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  28. I have seen these, my grandmother had them. I can see how they would be wonderful to wear in hospital and now that I'm thinking about it much nicer than the bathrobe I wear to bed to read when its winter in our drafty Canadian farm house. I could be warm because my arms and shoulders would be covered but be able to move better.

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  29. I'll bet my great aunt had one. I was just going through our stock of them at work today and thinking it might be nice to have one for reading in bed at night, and certainly better for my posture than trying to keep all of myself under the blanket!

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  30. I worked at the hospital after I graduated from high school and remember older women wearing them in bed. It was a nice way to cover up a little bit of exposure when people are wearing a nightgown.

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  31. Were there really that many women who didn't work and didn't have children? Maybe after the kids went to bed? Back then women liked to look nice all the time, like wearing a dress and heels while doing housework. I wear a flannel shirt or sweatshirt if I'm cold.

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  32. Never worn one nor have I ever seen one outside of a 40's movie. But, it's not a bad idea for those nights I can't sleep and read in bed. I sometimes put on a shawl because I am cold. But, bed jackets were meant to be seen at least by the maid.

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  33. I got one from a 90-year-old woman who I did housework for. It's a cream satiny-type of thing, with what seems to be handmade lace. It has flutter sleeves and is perfect for looking fancy when it's a thousand degrees. Plus, it makes me think of sweet Naomi :)

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  34. My mother and her four sisters ALL wore lovely bed jackets that matched their beautiful nightgowns. Rooms were chilly because the heat was turned off/down at night and it was more comfy to have your arms covered. No flannels for these ladies! PS, they all got up to go to work in the family butcher shop in the morning, but their feminine side prevailed

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  35. I'm here for the extra credit. Hahaha!!! Carole Landis, Lucy, Betty.

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    1. BINGO!!! (And I would expect no less from you, Tiny.). 👍👍👍

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    2. Carole Landis! DAMN.

      My mother had a nice quilted one, in aqua. And I made her one for her last weeks in the hospital. That one ended up with my spouse's grandmother in hospice - I added rhinestone buttons and some shinier trim. Because nothing goes better with the five pm drink cart than a blue silk plaid bed jacket with rhinestone buttons. Going for a Chanel look.

      It stayed there when she died. I'd like to think it got all worn out, with plastic mermaids in the pocket.

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  36. Since I am sewing up a wardrobe of new nightgowns, you have given me the desire to add one or two of these to my list. It would be especially nice to put in my bag in case I go to hospital. I never saw one outside of vintage movies.

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  37. What a great idea to add to my list of sewing projects! I have a short robe that I wear when I read in bed every night, but these old patterns are much nicer options. Thanks for the inspiration, Peter!

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  38. I adore bed jackets and am lucky to own quite a selection, some knitted, some quilted, some sewn. I wear them when reading in bed at night, and in the morning when my darling husband brings in tea and we listen to the early news on the radio. I wear them with pretty nighties as it's the only time I get to feel glamorous.

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  39. How absolutely gorgeous. As a nurse I well remember bed jackets, where have they gone? I want one. Beautiful, and your top stays warm while your lower bits are not too hot under the blankets. The only catch is I'm a bit of a hygiene nutter and if I got a drop of coffee etc on this bed jacket work of art it would be in the wash more often than would be good for it.

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  40. A few years ago, I was working at an independent fabric store and a customer came in with the request to have a bed jacket made. She loved wearing them and had one that she asked me to make a pattern from to make her a new one. As glamorous as it sounds she only wanted her's made from fleece. For warmth, I guess. It was a very simple style and she loved it. I adore some of the elaborate ones from this post.

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  41. I remember my mother wearing one for breast feeding in the early 70s. It was a pink, crocheted and cape-like. Long dressing gowns in winter have never gone out of vogue in Australia. They have recently morphed into the dressing gown/pyjama/animal costume combo: the onesie.
    When I was younger in summer time I would always wear a nighty with a matching brunch coat. Wondering if there's still such a thing.

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  42. How funny! Just saw an old Andy Griffith episode where Aunt Bea was longing for a pretty bed jacket for her birthday. The Edwardian era had some magnificent examples of boudoir couture. And in more recent times,I made one out of chiffon and satin for my grandmother, in the 90s. Oh to be a woman of leisure . . .

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  43. My first bed jacket was made by Viyella. It was a pale blue wool. I purchased it from a secondhand store in the late 70's. I don't think I was even 18 years old. I wore it as a sweater for many years. I still own it today but had forgotten all about it at the back of the cupboard. I will start wearing it again in the evenings, looks much nicer than a sweatshirt!

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  44. I have two bed jackets, one quilted, the other cotton terry. I wear one at bedtime rather than in the morning to keep the chill off while reading, saying prayers, and wrapping up my email. These garments are short to cover what ever isn't under the blankets. No extra bulk, and easily put on or removed. They are really nice, too, when you have to spend time in bed being ill. My mother had one, but she worked as a night nurse, so didn't use it much. I love all the patterns you have shown; it would be fun to make one. Thank you for presenting the topic!

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  45. Thank You !
    While you were posting this yesterday, I was on pinterest looking for bed jacket ideas....Great minds think alike!

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  46. I want one! That first pattern is beautiful. wonderful blog post.. oh and actually quite a lot of the little old grannies I care for still have bed jackets :D

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  47. I can see where a bed jacket could be useful for reading in bed or when ill. Which brings me to another reason for their disappearance - it used to be that if you were ill, gave birth, or had surgery, you were expected to be in bed and stay there for days. Now they have you up and doing laps as soon as the anesthesia wears off it seems.

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    1. This is true. Grandma was in bed for a full week post-childbirth. My friend was barely done pushing when she went home.

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  48. I have never worn a bed jacket, and I don't think I know anyone else who has. Some of those jackets are very cute, though, and would look great today if made in a daytime fabric and worn with a pencil skirt or wide leg trousers!

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  49. I remember my grandma had one in her later years. I spent the entire Christmas shopping season looking for one for my mom, who is getting close to being bedridden. I never did find one. I'm hoping to be able to make her one by Mother's Day. I'm going to shorten a robe pattern. I wish the pattern industry would realize that there is an entire market for patterns for elderly, or handicapped individuals.

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    1. Agree totally!! I have had to modify patterns so much for my handicapped daughter. And I am not good at it.

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  50. I own and wear bedjackets...I am in my early 50s. I confess that I also spend a great deal of time lolling around in bed reading. Mine are both made out of polar fleece.

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  51. My mother, who died two years ago at age 90, had a bed jacket. I think they are very practical, actually. I'd love to see them "come back," but I'm not sure I would spend the time to make one. I'd rather spend my sewing time on a couture dress!

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  52. It occurs to me that when Cousin Cathy is next in "confinement", maybe with Baby Burda, or Collette? Or Butterick? a bed jacket would be on fleek!

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  53. My mum always wore a bed jacket when sitting up in bed and reading for hours on end. Nothing as fancy as these lovelies though. I took one to hospital when my children were born in the 70s, it was for modesty sake when receiving visitors. The shop bought ones were often that awful Bri nylon that caught on the tiniest bit of rough skin on your hands. Thank goodness that material is gone.

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  54. My relatives wore bed jackets when reading in bed, or when sitting in a chair in the evening. They varied from crocheted, quilted or more fancy. Most were made.

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  55. I forgot to mention that my uncle also wore one, he loved fine dressing gowns, and he had some kind of bed jacket he would wear when sitting up in bed. I remember it was silk and brocade.

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  56. I want that exact copy of the Advance pattern, simply because of the "ARMPITS DON'T FIT" written in anguish on the front. We've all been there, love.

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  57. My great grandmother had a couple house jackets and bed jackets that my sisters and I would play dress-up in when I was little. It's a very glamorous garment and I think it's time for a comeback! Robes nowadays just aren't as cool.

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  58. I made one in the 80's and loved it. It wasn't glamorous as it was made of quilted fabric. I am going on a hunt for one of these beautiful patterns so I can make another.

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  59. I've never worn one but my mother did, when she was sick with migraine headaches. A short coverup doesn't bunch under you in bed but keeps your shoulders warm; also hides a not-so-nice nightgown. The pattern commentary speaks of fantasy, not reality, as most women have always had to get up in the morning--to make their own tea, breakfast the kids, go to work or tackle the housework. We sew things to put ourselves in imaginary places as well as real ones. I know whereof I speak: Why else did I use the Folkwear pattern for a Kinsale cape to make a magnificent lined wool (with giant hood) full length cape "to go to the opera," which I've worn twice in 30 years????? It's very hard to drive a stick shift wearing a cape with no armholes in freezing weather...

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  60. I have the Japanese incarnation of a bed Jacket. The Japanese call it a "Hanten". It is a hip-length quilted kimono sleeve jacket that you wear over your clothing when you're chilly. Traditionally, the Japanese would wear it over their clothing in winter as a jacket. I tend to wear the hanten in the winter at home when we are watching TV in our basement because it's cold downstairs. Hanten come in many traditional styles.

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  61. I laughed at the reminder about bed jackets. In the 50's when I was growing up they were still around. I think the modern equivalent is a cotton fleece hoodie that I throw on when I get up in the morning to drink my coffee. But I am retired. There was no relaxed coffee drinking in the morning when I was still working.

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  62. I would love any one of those bed jackets when I am up in the early mornings, nursing my baby...

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  63. I was given a vintage bed jacket for Christmas and I love it! Mine is a homemade job, very similar to Simplicity 2778 in your post above, but instead of cut-on sleeves it has raglan sleeves, with a shoulder-shaping dart. The front panel is also darted at the top. Really, I am pleased with the level of complexity in the patterning of such a utilitarian garment--when this one wears out, I'll take a pattern from it and make a new one! It's a synthetic fiber, quilted, and tying at the neck. It's great for lounging around the house but still feeling pretty, and yes, for sitting in bed.

    I think the modern equivalent to the bed jacket, at least in terms of use, is the sweatshirt/hoodie/sweater, but there is no modern equivalent in terms of design intent.

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  64. I have two bed jackets!! Once bought a few years ago in pastel pink fluff knit, more like a wrap around ballet cardigan... the second one I inherited from a dear friends mother, whom we both nursed at home. Best bit about them? Being able to put it on, without getting out of bed!

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  65. I'm cracking up over the "armpits" note written on one of the pattern envelopes.

    The only bed jacket I've ever worn is a sweatshirt sitting up in bed reading and trying to stay warm in the winter.

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  66. I had a friend request one when she had her first child. She planned on nursing in bed, and didn't want to be all tangled in her regular robe. At 7000 feet in Wyoming, having a little something to toss on seemed like a good idea. As I recall it was deep red velour with white lace trim.

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