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That just-rolled-out-of-bed look goes chic

The lines are blurring between pajamas, loungewear and exercise gear -- but they're all getting more luxurious.

January 28, 2003|Greg Morago | Hartford Courant

We sleep in our loungewear. We lounge in our sleepwear. So what's the difference? Nada. And, apparently, we like it that way.

Jammies that look like sweats or active wear that behaves like PJs have practically become America's uniform. We wear them to walk the dog, to work out, to go to the supermarket, to pick up the kids, to board a flight, even to go out to the movies or a casual dinner. Today we don't bat an eye when we see someone at McDonald's or at the mall dressed head to toe in snugly velour or plush workout duds. We live, it seems, in pajama nation.

Although that observation may not surprise anyone, our loungewear is evolving. It's becoming better made, more fashion-conscious and, inevitably, more expensive.

Take a look around: Major retailers and designers are taking up the loungewear/sleepwear banner (or should we say pillow?) with fleecy enthusiasm. Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein all make comfy active wear meant to play in or sleep in.

The Gap has upgraded its Gap Body line of loungewear this year with better fabrics, as has Banana Republic, which has gone to the head of the class with its pure cashmere loungewear separates. L.L. Bean, Lands' End and J. Crew have extensive sleepwear/loungewear options that do double duty in and out of the house.

Customers of Garnet Hill think nothing of plunking down $110 for an embroidered wool and silk Swiss-designed Hanro top that looks as good in bed as it does sitting in a bar sipping a cosmo.

Likewise, the Chambers catalog customer is comfortable spending $380 for a cashmere lounging set (and matching robe for $430) that is light-years from granny's flannel nightie.

"The luxe loungewear trend is coming from a few different places," said Rebecca Weill, a Gap spokeswoman. "One is the whole active/wellness trend and the popularity of activities such as yoga, Pilates, hiking and walking." You need clothes that are comfortable to work out in but not necessarily technical gear.

The other trend that's influencing the popularity of luxe loungewear is the idea of nesting and cocooning. With all that's going on in the world, the idea of just staying home and hanging out with family and friends is now more popular."

In the '80s, we started to see "innerwear" as outerwear. Think about wearing camisoles as tops or slips as dresses. In the '90s we moved to simply living in our loungewear.

"Loungewear became active wear," said Tom Julian, a New York fashion trend analyst with Fallon Worldwide. "I think it had to do with Y2K, more luxury at home and indulgent living, as well as cocooning."

Nesters and cocooners who are spending $88 on a cashmere panty at Banana Republic are probably the same people investing in a $350 plush fur blanket from Pottery Barn or a $200 damask duvet cover from Restoration Hardware.

"We find this section of our business trending up simply because it is part of the whole cocooning trend that's been going on. It's a post-9/11 adult security blanket that people are looking for," said Kimberly Aylward, spokeswoman for Garnet Hill, a natural-fibers catalog company. "They're looking for luxury in their lounge- and sleepwear. Everything ties back to being comfortable and casual.... People have gone from a cotton-nylon sweatsuit into cashmere, mohair and fine silk for the luxury fibers."

"It's all about family right now," said Tara McCollum, a spokeswoman for Banana Republic, adding that the interchangeable loungewear/active wear trend makes sense because consumers want versatility and comfort, and they're willing to pay more for lasting quality.

"You're going to be spending a lot of time in these items," she said. "You want something that will last a very long time. It's an investment but it's worthwhile. These are pieces that can take you from the gym to the home. You can wear them indoors and outside as well." Weill agrees: "Gap Body's new suede fleece, microfleece and velour separates can really take you from one activity to the next."

Looking good is a big part of all this, Aylward said. "It's about feeling good but looking put together. Luxury loungewear is the kind of thing that you don't feel embarrassed wearing when the UPS man knocks at the door," she said. "You're comfortable, you're casual, you could sleep in it, you could lounge in it, you're working at home in it."

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