Recently, one of my readers posted her answers to one of those Facebook quizzes (where you actually reveal all kinds of personal information for marketers.) Her answer for the “what do you wear to bed” question was “nothing.”
Now, I’m not a prude, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for what they do or don’t wear when the temperatures and humidity are unbearable. But you’d never catch me going to bed in my birthday suit. That’s not just a fixture of my age or how I feel about my crepe-y skin. It has to do with my personality and style.
Why We Choose What We Wear to Bed
A couple of years ago, during a road trip with my sister, I put on my very old, very comfy cotton drawstring pajama bottoms and a similarly comfortable old tee shirt to turn in for the night. My sis, on the other hand, wore a long pink flowing nightgown.
I’m a laid-back natural type, and she’s always been a girly girl. Our styles haven’t changed in all these years, and at this point, they aren’t going to.
Now, if you are dressing for your man, every survey I read indicated that there was no clear preference in what they liked a woman to wear to bed. Old t-shirts, teddy sets, pjs, slinky nighties, even team jerseys got their praise.
So what should we older women wear for nighties? Whatever the heck we do want to! But let’s look at some of the varieties, some that are literally labeled “old lady nighties” (I didn’t make that up, it’s a “thing” – search on it) some that are slinky and sexy, and some that are plain – and just plain comfortable.
Textiles for Comfort
Starting with that last point, there is one thing that we older women can all agree upon: the material of what we wear to bed has to be comfortable. One of the reasons this becomes more important as we age is that our skin becomes thinner and is therefore more sensitive.
Regardless of how pretty a nightie might look on the hanger, we just don’t want anything that is scratchy against our skin, especially anywhere near our boobs. That means that stiff lace is out. And when you can find it, a garment that has a silkscreened label instead of one of those annoying tags on the neckline or the seams is a blessing.
Any knit fabric is pretty much fair game as far as comfort is concerned. But garments made from mostly natural fibers, those with no or very little synthetic component, are healthier for our skin in general. They allow it to breathe. After more than a year of trying to inhale through a face mask, we’ve become intimately aware of just how important air flow is!
The most popular natural materials for knit sleepwear include brushed cotton, rayon (which is cellulose, usually sourced from trees), and increasingly, bamboo. Bamboo is also a very ecologically sound choice. Anyone who has ever tried to tame a bamboo plant that is undermining a house foundation can attest to its self-regenerative ability.
Satin, if it is truly made by the efforts of many silkworms, is truly luxurious. These days almost all so-called satin that you find in department and specialty stores is actually polyester. But real silk satin nighties aren’t that terribly pricey.
And then, of course, in the colder climates and during long cold winter months, nothing beats 100% cotton flannel. The fluffy fibers trap air which is then warmed by your body heat. Unless you are still having hot flashes, flannel is the wintertime no brainer.
The feeling of a textile against our skin sends all kinds of feedback to our brains. Satiny fabrics read as pure sensuality and are more likely to release those yummy related hormones than, say, flannel. Also, the cut of the fabric has a psychological effect. A lot of slinky night gowns, both short and long, are cut on a bias. Anything with a bias cut implies motion and sensuality. It isn’t static or stiff.
But if a deep, child-like sleep is what you are hoping for, wearing brushed cotton or flannel might be more to your liking. Those fabrics are more, well, grounding, more the stuff of innocent dreams.
Gowns or Pajamas
I don’t know about you, but I have never had a nightgown or short nightie that didn’t creep further and further up my body at some point as I tossed and turned throughout the night. And I can’t stand my legs to be cold at night.
Those are the main reasons I opt for pajamas. But the downside, especially if you have put on some weight, is that even those expandable elastic or a drawstring cords can be a constant reminder of an expanding waistline. So there are tradeoffs.
Nighties often simply make one feel more feminine. (The afore-mentioned “old lady” nighties are a separate category. We’ll get to that in a minute.) One of my 50-something clients, just starting into a new relationship with a slightly younger man who pursued her mightily, asked for help shopping for nighties.
She went straight for the rack of black charmeuse, full-length slinky nightgowns. Her guy had always loved her feminine side and how she emphasized it. (He had been fantasizing about her for more than 30 years before they re-connected!)
But a long-sleeved nightshirt with piping trim, especially if it’s in a fine cotton or satin, can also be elegant and sexy. Piping is a classic trim element that speaks of refinement. Plaid patterned nightshirts are more, well, “yang” in their energy. But they can also be sexy because they are kind of like wearing your guy’s old shirt.
My husband’s aunt had hot flashes well into her 80s! She was one of those people who craved the cold weather and winter snow. After her husband died, she left her home in the tropical climate he loved and moved back to a much cooler climate. Too bad she didn’t live long enough to know about something just on the horizon that might have made her sleep more pleasant.
Through the wonders of science, there are some new fabrics in nightwear that have been a god send for women who tend to run hot physically. These are, alas, made from man-made textiles. So, if you are sensitive to synthetics, they may not be a solution for you.
But the science behind them is fascinating and as with many things, was initially created for military use for troops that are deployed to extremely hot or humid climates. The goal was to create a microfiber that was as comfortable as soft cotton but that was able to wick moisture away from the body and keep you dry.
It also had to be anti-bacterial and remain odor free. The way it works is that as the moisture is wicked away from the body it also carries away excess heat, helping the body maintain its normal temperature.
Although I have personally avoided synthetics, one of the companies offering moisture-wicking loungewear and nightwear asked me to review some of their items and I was pleasantly surprised. They are in the UK and are called Cucumber as in “cool-as-a-cucumber.” This was my review including some photos of how I wore them.
“Old Lady” or “Sweet Young Thing”
So here’s the thing about the flannel nightgowns. They are not only comfortable and in their way, calming, they are also very practical. This is especially the case for anyone who has mobility issues, stiff joints or difficulty lifting or bending their knees.
Simply getting in and out of pajamas can be a challenge. A one-and-done nightgown that you just slip over your head or walk into and fasten with hooks or buttons makes total sense.
Generally, these types of nightgowns seem to come in three versions: plain with only slight embellishment, high-neck long-sleeved, often in flannel, and gauzy sheer cotton for warmer weather. They are also often designed with what are considered youthful style elements and trims.
You’ll typically see a lot of little floral patterns, pin-tucking, small ruffles at the neckline or hem, bib necklines, and round collars. Youthful style elements, as opposed to Romantic ones, tend to speak of modesty.
A lot of these types of nightgowns have that “Little House on the Prairie” look. Make of that what you will. They are just very comfortable and practical. And why not experience a second childhood? Unless you are experiencing a second coming-of-age… in which case, you might want to opt for the slinky nightgown.
Do you wear pjs or nighties? What is your favorite type? Has your style of nightwear changed over the years or recently? Has your significant other ever bought you any or commented on what you wore?