Great Gatsby Sew-Along, The Cat’s Pajamas (One Giant Leap for Womankind)

Beach Pajamas By Tree2The phrase, “the cat’s pajamas” was coined in the 1920s in reference to the unconventional spirit of the female flapper (“cat”) and, combined with the word pajamas (a relatively new fashion in the 1920s), it formed a phrase used to describe something that is the best at what it does, thus making it highly sought after and desirable.Beach Pajamas and HatFor the Great Gatsby Sewing Challenge spearheaded by Miss Crayola Creepy, I decided to sew a pair of Beach or Lounge Pajamas from a Butterick 4177 Pattern.

Butterick 4177 Jumpsuit Pattern

Sewing Pattern I used: Butterick 4177 Jumpsuit

1920s dresses bird silhouette print

1920s dresses with bird silhouette print

Pajamas were the new lounge wear of the 1920s, no longer limited to actually sleeping in.

In the 1920s and 1930s, these garments, made of soft satin and embroidered “a la Chinoise,” became not only acceptable, but a chic, stylish item for women to wear to soirees in the homes of their bohemian friends.

Art Deco was also popular in the 1920s and fabric prints reflected this.

Art Deco Fabrics (Spoonflower)

Art Deco Fabrics (Spoonflower)

Great Gatsby Fabric

Fabric: Art Deco Inspired Print in an ultra-thin rayon challis and Bird Silhouette Print in a poly gauze

I selected an Art Deco inspired geometric print for the Beach Pajamas in a very delicately thin and airy rayon challis, 100% viscose (which was difficult to cut and sew with) and added a silhouette bird pattern fabric (also popular in the 1920s) for the collar and pockets, in a poly gauze.  PantsuitIn the years 1880-1910, the ideal female profile would resemble the letter “S”. Ladies would force themselves into corsets and squeeze their waists down to often below 20 inches in diameter. This would raise their ribcage producing a prominent chest or “pigeon front”. The sides would be pushed back and the rear raised or padded to produce the lower curve of the “S”.

Misses' Polonaise Costume, from Butterick's Delineator, September 1883

Misses’ Polonaise Costume, from Butterick’s Delineator, September 1883

Before the twentieth century, women were technically not allowed to wear pants because it was deemed a masculine item, and they were ostracized if they opted to do so.  The Women’s Suffrage movement gained its greatest victory in 1920 when the 19th Amendment prohibited gender discrimination in the voting polls. This political gain opened a decade of many radical changes in the perception and presentation of women.  One of these changes was the change in the oppressive and sometimes health detriments of women’s fashions of the time.  Dress reformers in the 19th century tackled this issue of female oppression by fashion by promoting social improvement in practicality over trends, for health and comfort over convention, and rationality over conformity

Paul Poiret harem pants

Paul Poiret harem pants

The arrival of World War I (1914–18) gave many women jobs as men went to join the military and many women wore trousers and overalls to work in factories.

Eastern culture inspired French designer Paul Poiret (1879–1944) to become one of the first to design pants (trousers) for women. In 1913 Poiret created loose-fitting, wide-leg trousers for women called harem pants, which were based on the costumes of the popular opera Sheherazade.

Thelma Todd in a late 1920s early 1930s Beach Pajama Ensemble

Thelma Todd in a Beach Pajama Ensemble

Fun in Beach Pajamas1920’s fashion trends were all about rebellion. The 1920’s were a time of backlash. People were lashing out at the rigid formalities of the Victorian era and defying the restrictions that came with the Prohibition era.

1920s Sewing Pattern

1920s/30s Sewing Pattern

1920s Beach Pajamas McCalls Pattern

1920s/30s Beach Pajamas McCalls Pattern

Lounging in Lounge PajamasUntil the 1920s, pajamas were only worn as sleepwear, then sometime in the 1920s, they made their way outdoors as a cover-up over swimming costumes on the beaches of the French Riveria.

Beach Pajamas La Cote D'Azure

Beach Pajamas La Cote D’Azure

During the 1920s, Coco Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet promoted silky, luxurious pajamas as evening wear to wear initially in private after which Coco Chanel began to wear trousers herself in public.  This was a new, ‘masculine’ look that offered loose, sailor style trousers for women to wear at home and at the beach. These ‘beach pajamas’ were an early form of the pants suit.Walking in Breeze in Beach PajamasLe-Sourire_1933

When crepe beach and lounge pajamas were first worn at the seaside, trouser wearing women were a rare sight and still very much confined to only beach and promenade areas while in public.  Society still did not want to accept women in this new role.1926 photo Ready to Strut My StuffBeach Pajamas and Great Gatsby BookFinally, by the late 1920s, beach pajamas appeared outside the bedroom as swimsuit cover-ups on the beaches and boats of the French Riviera, then quickly moved on to the streets of Britain and spread across the globe.

1920s Beach Pajamas PosterThey are comfortable.  They are stylish.  They are cool and breezy.  They are practical.  They are leaps and bounds above corsets, petticoats, cages and heavy long skirts.  Long Live the Lounge / Beach Pajama!!

Kitty Wants

Kitty Wants

Also, don’t forget to enter the Wellington Pattern Pyramid, here.  The last day for entry is this Friday June 7, 2013.

Resources and Credits:

1930s beach and lounging pyjamas…how I love thee

133 thoughts on “Great Gatsby Sew-Along, The Cat’s Pajamas (One Giant Leap for Womankind)

  1. Kristin says:

    This is incredible!! Your outfit looks outstanding, and your post is so well researched and interesting! I knew much of it, but I’m embarrassed (maybe?) to admit that I had no idea that beach/lounge pajamas were a thing and I want some now! Great job!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Ooh, thanks so much Kristin!! I wanted to give a bit of interesting 1920s info and background in this post. I actually found out about the full story behind beach pajamas while researching for this Sewalong and I just fell in love with them! Not only with the fun and comfortable style, but for what they represent for women’s rights and freedoms. Funny how a simple garment can do all that. 🙂 I’m so happy you like them!

      • Kristin says:

        You know, I did a bit of research as well, though nowhere nearly as comprehensive as yours, and I also had this huge epiphany when making my flapper dress. Once I got past the fashions and started thinking about WHY it was happening and what it meant for women, it was so enlightening. Thanks again for posting and sharing your amazing creation!

        • Gjeometry says:

          It’s so cool what that happens, isn’t it? When you are doing one thing: sewing and fashion and learn about something totally different: sexual politics and history. Nice!!

  2. Alison says:

    Hi, love your outfit! I am your sewing swap partner and it is about time I was in touch, why does ‘life’ always happen at the one time?! Anyway if you could email me that would be fab and sorry in advance if you don’t get your swap by the 17th June!


    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Andrea!! I know, I debated whether to make Kitty a pair of pajamas. But, the fabric is so thin and airy, he would have wrecked it within minutes.

  3. marie says:

    What a great looking outfit. I really enjoyed reading all about the coming of age of pants for women. You did a fantastic job in incorporating all that interesting information with your pictures of your terrific beach lounge wear.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much Lizzie! These are so comfortable! The flowy style coupled with the silky soft and delicate viscose fabric make it feel as if I am wearing air! Onwards to the Beach!!

  4. Chloe says:

    Great job on the post and the pj’s – they really suit you! And your research is so inspiring, you found some great images that really capture the look.

  5. Brooke says:

    I love the whole look from the hat down to the fabulous shoes! The beach pjs are so cute – you did a great job on them!

    And wonderful overview of the historical context. I enjoyed your post very much! =)

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank You Brooke! They came together nicely, except I did have trouble with figuring out how to ‘close’ the wrap-around top. The pics did not make sense to me. I ended up just sewing the whole top around (with the elastic casing waistband) and eliminating the hook and eye closures.

  6. Chris Lucas says:

    Oh WOW… what a great post and what a great outfit! Suits you perfectly and they sure do look super comfortable and perfect for lounging around in. I bet Kitty is super jealous 🙂

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Chris!! They feel like ‘buttah’. The fabric is very thin and silky and the jumpsuit style is totally comfortable. I shall no longer lounge in stretchy pants again! Kitty, however, seemed more interested in my fancy fruity drink! 😉

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Kathleen! I really enjoyed researching it, as it was exciting to learn how one little fashion statement said so much about women’s rights and freedoms.

      And, I feel so elegant in my beach PJs. I can totally see why they were so popular in the 20s and 30s!! No idea why they would ever go out of style.

  7. Red Point Tailor says:

    You managed! Congratulations! What a great job! What a glamour!
    Very good post – I have been reading with great pleasure. I love this period.
    It looks tempting… maybe something for my fabric stash busting 😉

  8. grtescp says:

    what fabulous styling, I had to look twice the before I realised the first photo wasn’t a historical picture! I love your pyjamas, and I the background information is so interesting – it is fascinating how pyjamas apparently came out of the bedroom to be public wear, and now have mainly gone back to the bedroom! I certainly wouldn’t wear my PJs to the beach 🙂

    • Gjeometry says:

      Ooooh, what a fantastic compliment, thank you! (I scrolled back to see which one was the first photo, lol). And, I also found the history of this fashion period really interesting. My regular jammies, I would not wear to the beach, but these? Yup, they are already packed and ready to go to throw over my swim suit! 🙂

  9. frocksford says:

    There are no words for how much I love and covet your beach pyjamas. Ever since I went to Winston Churchill’s birthplace and discovered that he wore a burgundy velvet onesie for smoking, I’ve been thinking of making myself one. This is an excellent summer-weather onesie! Well done!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Eeeee, I am so chuffed by your lovely comment, thank you!! 🙂 And, you should totally sew a burgundy velvet beach pajama for the winter beach visiting months, in the style of Churchill. I would love to see them!!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much Jo! And, what a fantastic vision, Kitty and I with cocktails in our Beach Pajamas, watching the sunset…..lovely! 🙂 (I was so going to make Kitty something out of the main fabric, but it is so thin and delicate that he would have it destroyed within minutes, even without meaning to. I still may make an interfaced collar for him, that would be more stable).

  10. Lorie ~ Ferndale Lane says:

    So pretty and comfy!! Great job! Everyone did such an awesome job with this sewing challenge! I really LOVE the yellow and blue diagonal stripe pajamas in the La Cote D’Azure photo! Wow! I just finished reading the book (we didn’t read it in high school) and I absolutely LOVED the new movie.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Becca! I got lucky with those fabric prints, one visit to the first store and they had both fabrics in stock, and both EXACTLY what I was looking for. D’oh!! I should have also bought a lottery ticket that day!! 😛

  11. Elise Lin says:

    Oh, your beach pajamas are wonderful! You make me want to make cat pajamas as well 🙂 The research is cool, it gives an extra dimension to what beach pajamas stand for. Doesn’t Kitty mind the citrus fruits? My pet tigers hate anything citrusy ferociously.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank You Elise! I’m also happy you enjoyed reading about the background, it was fun to write this post and learn so much myself! Kitty is basically interested in anything you have, so although he wouldn’t drink citrus drinks (citrus is supposed to repel cats, so yours are normal), it certainly doesn’t stop him from thoroughly checking things out!

    • Gjeometry says:

      “Faboosh!” oooooh, I’m going to take that as a very high compliment, indeed! Thank you! And, I believe it may be a finable offense to blog-post without requisite Kitty photos.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Awwww, thanks so much Anne!! I blush!! Your brittle heart DID melt! Lol. (I highly doubt it is in any way brittle, you ‘ol softie, you 🙂 ) (And, hot Toddys + beach pajamas = yes!)

  12. kaitui_kiwi says:

    Fascinating, I love al the vintage images and your “cat’s pajamas” look very loungy and fabulous, makes me long for summer days so I can lounge about with Harri too! 🙂

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you Mel! These Beach Pajamas definitely bring about the “loungy” in anybody wearing them. You could always sew up a pair in courdory or velour for winter beaching. But, they wouldn’t have that wonderful airy flowiness to them, especially in the wide legs.

  13. Jenny says:

    What a fantastic post! I loved all of it–the research (it made nerdy me happy), the pictures, your amazing outfit–well done!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Jenny! I am flattered :). Oh, and nerdy me says to say ‘hi’ to nerdy you. (Actually, I think they’re off together now, playing chess and watching Star Trek somewhere…)

  14. Boomdeeadda says:

    What’s not to like? I love the breezy look to those. The hip gal from the 20’s wearing the lime green number, could walk down the street today in that! Your photo’s are so fun and creative, I always giggle. Hello Kitty!! So fun to be in the garden with you and your jaunty beach hat. We saw the Great Gatsby three weeks ago and I drooled over EVERYTHING! The cloths, the cars, the furniture. It seems like the rich were having the time of their lives. You could totally hang with Leo in that outfit!

    • Gjeometry says:

      🙂 Thanks Boomdee!

      I actually also thought the pics looked very modern. A lot of ‘vintage’ fashion, although you may wear it today, the pics looks very dated and obvious that it a vintage pic, i.e a lot of stuff from the 50s and 70s, especially. But these, the haircuts, hats, flowy jumpsuits with the art deco geometric patterns. I could totally see that in a picture from 2013!

      Weren’t the cars in the Great Gatsby awesome! I want that yellow one.

      • Boomdeeadda says:

        I KNOW right! It was all toooo gorgeous. I was in love with all of Michelle’s costumes and that Leo is just getting cuter all the time. I pictured myself living in Toby’s cute little cottage maybe out behind Ellen Degeneres’s place 😀 I’d waive at her and Portia from the rose covered porch. I’d have you and kitty over for tea.

        • Gjeometry says:

          Oooh, nice, Kitty and I would accept, for sure! I actually really liked the cute little cottage behind Gatsby’s, almost better than his ridiculously huge mansion. It had such charm and the garden/forest surrounding it was so beautiful. Almost like a little fairy tale.

  15. Thimble & Cork says:

    This. Is. FABULOUS! You look amazing! I LOVE your mix of prints – I definitely envy that skill. And it’s so interesting to read about the history of 1920s fashion, and beach pajamas in particular. You nailed this challenge! I’d say you’re the cat’s pajamas! (Did I use that correctly? I need to work on my 1920s slang)

    • Gjeometry says:

      Aw, thanks so much Kacie! I feel lucky about the prints, as I had an image in my mind of the fabrics I wanted, and both fabric types (thin and flowy) and prints (art deco) and colours happened to be in stock at my local store!

      And, I would be intensely super-flattered if you’d say I was the cat’s pajamas, so yes, totally correctly used and a lovely compliment! 🙂

  16. Born To Organize says:

    What a great narrative with delightful pics to go along. As always, you look divine in whatever you wear or sew. I love having kitty along as well.

    This is one of my favorite fashion periods. I was lucky to have the chance to wear an authentic 1920s dress and hat for a play in college. Great, great fun.

    Thanks, Geo.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank You so much Bridget! I’m happy that you enjoyed the blog-post, as well. I really like ‘mixing it up’ and adding information, not necessarily directly about sewing.

  17. Leonie says:

    Great article Gjeometry! And fab pyjamas! I know I couldn’t carry off the flapper dress, but I think I might try some beach pyjamas. You’ve inspired me.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Leonie! Glad you like them! I think you should give the beach pajamas a try. They will be flattering to SO many body types as they are loose and flowing, but still have some structure around the cinched waist and, for my pattern, the cross-over top gives it some structure, as well.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank You Leila! 🙂 It was a lot of fun to research and sew. But, the 100% viscose fabric was definitely the thinnest, lightest and slipperiest fabric I ever worked with. I used a ‘walking foot’ when sewing with it.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks so much Chuleenan! So many lovely compliments :). I love the fabric, as well, and am trying to find out the official name for it. It is 100% viscose and may be considered a rayon challis. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  18. Joanne says:

    What a fun jumpsuit! I love everything about it. The way it floats on your body, the fabric choice, and the fact that it’s pants that can pass as a skirt!

  19. tassadit says:

    Wow, it’s gorgeous! And thanks for all the info you gathered about this style (plus I always wondered where the expression “the cat’s pyjamas” came from!).

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much Tassadit! And, thanks for stopping by the blog. You are most welcome for the information, I had a great time researching and compiling everything. I love the 1920s fashions and the Art Deco movement.

  20. stephanie@mabelmakes says:

    All I can say is WOW! This is actually amazing. I just love what you made. Even though it’s very true to the 1920s I think it’s very modern as well! The fabric combinations, everything! Gah – just love it!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Stephanie, you are very kind! I find this style to be modern, as well, easily worn without people ‘noticing’ a 1920s outfit. Even the Art Deco posters and vintage pics I found and posted look very modern to me, not dated at all. There seems to be something about this era that translates very well into other decades.

  21. Clipped Curves says:

    Ii thoroughly enjoyed reading about PJ history – surprising that they were about as early as the 20s though. And I never realised that’s where the phrase cat’s pyjamas came from!

    • Gjeometry says:

      I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the blogpost! I was surprised as well, not only that trousers for women became popular but just how much significance this held. And the 1920’s seemed rife with ultra “cool” expressions. Reminds me a lot of the beatnik scene in the 1950s.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much Jennifer! I was so happy to get these fabrics, they were exactly what I was picturing in my mind when I went out shopping for fabric. I think I’m going to make more beach pajamas with different patterns but still in keeping with the wide leg and jumpsuit feel. I think they are chic, as well! And, so easy to wear.

  22. Calico Stretch says:

    Yep agreed – cat’s pjs indeed. I like yours.

    And to think the these days I seem to live in trousers with skirts or (gasp) dresses worn very infrequently.

    PS Mr Kitty is a big cat! Our little Twinkle (yes, really. The kids named her) is teeny in comparison.

    • Gjeometry says:

      🙂 Thanks! (Kitty selected the ‘cat’s pajamas’ part of the post). I live in trousers, as well. It’s only been recently that I’ve gotten into wearing skirts again, and that’s only because I’ve sewn them myself.

      And, yes, Kitty is a big boy! We actually think that he is half Bengal (on his father’s side). He was from a shelter, we met his mum, a grey tabby, but not the dad. But, Kitty is very large, has the same markings, has a very distinct personality, likes water (yes!!! going INTO water) and rarely meows. If you look up the Bengal cat, (here’s a link: he fits all the criteria.

      PS, Twinkle is a very cute name!

  23. Jeff says:

    Stylin’ and profilin’. Wow, that looks great. I think I would like to hang out on the French Riviera wearing lounge pajamas. And thanks for the history lesson too.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Hee, thank you!! And, you are most welcome for the history lesson, some good stuff to be gleaned from the roaring 20s.

      Oh, you just added an extra element of fabulousness. Not only must I make more lounge/beach pajamas, but I then must take them and GO to the French Riviera! Kitty is packing his tiny suitcase as we speak.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Hee! Thank you so much Clare! Well, you can’t have THIS one, but I may be persuaded to sew you your own.

      Really looking forward to your visit this summer!

    • Gjeometry says:

      Hi there, thanks for stopping by the blog! So glad you enjoyed the “pajama-her-story” (I totally love that expression!). And, thanks for the compliment. 🙂 I’m currently sorting and filing my sewing patterns (I finally have enough sewing patterns to actually sort and file!) and trying to decide on what I’m going to sew next.

  24. sewexhausted says:

    Oh, these are marvelous! I am sure I NEED a pair too! Love oth fabrics but the little birdies are adorable! You did a fine fine job tackling the 20’s. And I truly enjoyed the history/ fashion lesson! ~Laurie

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much, Laurie! And, isn’t it funny, that you don’t even realize that you need something till somebody sews it up and gives some info about it? This happens to me, far too often. What a nice compliment for me, that you feel you need a pair now.

      And so glad you enjoyed the history lesson. My favourite find was the pic of Jamie Williams, 1926, ‘ready to strut my stuff’. So fabulous, I did not even attempt to emulate it!!

  25. macinic says:

    Wow! How have I only just found your blog & posts! I adore your cats pyjamas – and Thank You SO much for the history lesson, it really was one of the more fantastic times in recent history!
    I definitely need a pair – and your drink.
    Thank you so much for posting 😉

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thank you so much!! And, I’m so happy that you found my blog and dropped by! You are welcome to sew yourself a pair of beach pajamas, pop on by and I will make you a drink! The essential accessory for beach pajamas, clearly. Glad you liked the history lesson.

  26. Rachel says:

    This is simply to die for. I love your posing on the lounger too, and you look like mia farrow! My favorite entry for the Great Gatsby challenge hands down.

    • Gjeometry says:

      Oh, wow what tremendous compliments, thank you very much, I am honoured!!

      1) to die for; 2) look like Mia Farrow; 3) favourite entry for Great Gatsby challenge hands down…..Excuse me while I float on air for the rest of the month! 🙂

  27. Merje says:

    Wow, what an interesting post! Only popped over from Did you make that to have a quick look but learnt a LOT. Thank you so much for sharing.

  28. Tiffany says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I loved learning about the history of women in pants. I do like the look of a corset (I like curves) but I really agree they aren’t very practical and am glad they are no longer everyday wear. The jumpsuit you made is very historically accurate and I really like the vintage picture you posted with the yellow and green jumpsuit (excuse me pajamas), I would actually wear that. Very well researched and thought out. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • Gjeometry says:

      Thanks Tiffany! Curves are great, for sure, but not forced, corsets so tight women are passing out daily, curves. I love these pics from the 1920’s as well. They have a real modernity about them.

  29. violetsvintagevault says:

    Hi, thanks for mentioning my site (Swingfashionista)

    Love the 30s style PJs you made. BTW, All the beach PJ pics you and sewing patterns you have shown here (apart from the modern one) are from the 1930s not the 20s. Beach PJs didn’t become popular commercially until the early 1930s and are very much part of that era re sewing patterns and advertising in magazines. When someone asks me ‘What 2 styles summed up the 1930s?” I always say, “Bias cut dresses to below the knee and beach pjamas.”

    • Gjeometry says:

      Hi there, thanks for your compliment and for dropping by my blog! Yes, this form of ‘beach pajama’ definitely became popular in the 1930’s. But, from my research, in the 1920’s women began wearing pants out in public for the first time in the form of ‘lounge pajamas’. These tended to be two pieces and didn’t have the wide legs. It was during this 1920s era, that politics changed and women gained many rights and freedoms, including wearing pants. So, I wanted to pay homage to that period in time, right before it became more mainstay and popular in the 1930s, to wear beach pajamas.

  30. cute beach dress says:

    Hi there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over.
    I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Superb blog and superb design.

I Love Hearing From You, Please Leave a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s