In the Golden Age of Hollywood, slipping into "something more comfortable," as a screen siren might have whispered, usually referred to seductive satin underthings. In real life, however, throwing on "something more comfortable" has typically meant donning a less than glamorous alternative, like a pair of loose-fitting sweatpants or well-worn bathrobe.
A growing category of apparel is starting to change that. As an uncertain economy and chilly winter weather motivate people to spend more evenings at home, loungewear - typically classified as a segment of nightwear - is bridging the gap between lingerie and leisurewear. Neither sloppy nor overtly provocative, the new loungewear exemplified by soft, stretchy trousers, shorts, leggings and tunic tops falls into a new and fashionable niche of its own.
"With the recession and with people cutting down on drinking and eating out, it's created this third wardrobe of clothes," says Tamara Sender, London-based senior fashion analyst for the international market-research firm Mintel.
This so-called third wardrobe, she explains, offers people something to wear between going out and going to bed. In recent years, she notes, more companies have also encouraged employees to work remotely, contributing to the rise in demand for comfortable, easy-to-wear clothing that can be worn around the home.
A recent market analysis conducted by Mintel shows retail sales of nightwear have risen nearly 10 per cent in Britain over the past five years to £476-million (about $740-million) in 2010, with women's loungewear representing the greatest area of growth. In North America, consumers and retailers are likewise embracing the trend, as brands ranging from Calvin Klein to Joe Fresh expand their loungewear lines.
"You come home from work and you want to get out of your work clothes and put on something comfortable, but something you would be comfortable to answer the doorbell in if somebody rang or sit around and have a glass of wine with your neighbour [in]" says Jane Short, buyer of sleepwear and intimates for Hudson's Bay Co.
Short says the loungewear concept emerged out of the popularity of Lululemon Athletica and Juicy Couture, whose yoga wear and sweats blurred the lines between what's worn behind closed doors and what's acceptable to wear outside. Since then, numerous brands have ramped up their loungewear offerings, including Jones New York, Nautica and DKNY, with each tailoring the category to its own unique style.
Short says that one of her favourite loungewear lines is Calvin Klein's Essentials, whose night dresses, in signature black and slate grey, could essentially be worn in the same way one might wear breezy summer dresses.
"It almost takes you back to the Katherine Hepburn era, to the thirties and forties, when they were wearing bias-cut gowns," she says. "It's a new elegance."
At Joe Fresh Style, the Canadian clothier's current loungewear collection includes slouchy drawstring pants, leggings, hoodies and sweatshirts, says stylist Adrienne Shoom.
Although it's progressing at a more modest pace, the men's loungewear market is also taking off, as men, too, seek a more attractive alternative to sweats and standard pyjamas. Short says the Bay has been selling a "tonnage of units" of its Hudson North men's woven-cotton and flannel sleep pants, which can be worn with a sweater or thermal shirt.
While loungewear is generally designed to be worn at home, one of its main appeals is its versatility. Emily Scarlett, spokeswoman for H&M, says that the company's loungewear, which includes fashion track pants, flannel pyjama bottoms, crewneck tops and drapey sweaters, can be worn at the gym, as nightwear or even dressed up for an evening out.
"When I see girls wearing the fashion track pant with a slouchy sock and heel and a great blouse and a blazer, I think it looks so fashion-forward, so edgy and of-the-moment," she says.
After all, she adds, "why not? There's so much room for creativity and inventiveness with fashion. Why not make every piece of your wardrobe count and work?"
Image Cutline: Today's loungewear, such as the lacy H&M bloomers below ($39.95 through www.hm.com), is more comfortably chic than the overtly come-hither styles of Grace Kelly's day.