We believe in the oft-repeated aphorism, “A gentleman uses a butter knife even when dining alone.” However, this isn’t about Downton Abbeypretensions, or Brideshead Revisited fantasies, it’s about living elegantly, and by extension dressing elegantly, wherever you are. Why let standards slip when you’re on home turf?
That said, we’re the first to recognise that comfort is a priority at the end of the day, and the more formal a man’s working wardrobe the more important it will be for him to kick off his John Lobb shoes, hang up his Richard James suit and toss his Charvet shirt into the laundry basket when he gets home. The logic of this, however, isn’t to then dress like a bum in an old pair of NBA replica shorts and a greying wife-beater, but instead to seek out elegant loungewear. At its best this takes the form of a pair of pyjamas and a dressing gown, a combination as comfortable as a sweat suit, but as elegant as a good suit.
If you’re still unconvinced of the need to dress up at home it’s relevant to mention that, aside from delivery drivers and neighbours, the people who see you in your loungewear are the people whose opinions really count – wives, girlfriends, partners and children. Of course it’s true that no man is a hero to his valet (as Monsieur Michel de Montaigne observed in the 16th century), but that’s a reason to try harder in the company of your nearest and dearest, rather than relax into the sartorial depravity of faded old sweatpants. Just ask yourself if you’d like your girlfriend to start dressing in cut-off joggers and an old vest.
Like every other piece of clothing, pyjamas make a statement. They speak of a more civilised age, when men had time to read a newspaper while they ate breakfast, and enjoy a quiet glass of whisky before bed. They also tell a tale of much draughtier bedrooms than we’re used to, and hark back to the (now unthinkable) days when gentlemen didn’t work; the era of Mr PG Wodehouse’s fictional character Bertie Wooster, who rarely rose before 9am, and is said, in 1934’s Thank You, Jeeves, to wear heliotrope-coloured pyjamas. For good or bad those days have gone, and they aren’t coming back. However, they still have a lot to teach us about style, elegance and doing things well, even if it’s sometimes hard to achieve these things while having to simultaneously earn a living.
Perhaps it’s telling that Wooster was unlucky in love, because whatever men did in the 1930s these days there is one domestic situation for which pyjamas are ill-suited. If, after a date, a guy is entertaining a girl in his bedroom, especially if it’s the first time he’s entertained this particular girl, then pyjamas might not strike the right note – she shouldn’t be given reason to wonder if he’s more used to sleeping with teddy bears than with women. The truth is that pyjamas’ easy cut, and the fact that they cover the entire body, means that they’re more sophisticated than seductive. On such occasions classic white cotton boxer shorts are probably the best option.
Assuming the white boxers are well received, and more dates follow, then after the initial frenzy of love has relaxed into something more dependable, a man may revert to wearing pyjamas. They announce that he’s a man of style, both in public and in private. Complete the outfit with a proper dressing gown (keep the towelling bathrobe for the bathroom), and a pair of velvet slippers. And if you do get to get up in time to enjoy breakfast in your splendid new nightwear then do remember to use a butter knife when you prepare your toast or croissant.
MR JOHNNY HALLYDAY
- Mr Hallyday in his bedroom, Paris, 1961 Jean–Claude Sauer/ Paris Match via Getty Images
This charming shot of the French singer, who was replying to fan mail at a stage in his career when his bedroom still had posters of his idols on the wall, sends two contrasting signals. Mr Hallyday is in white pyjamas, but with the buttons undone; the message seems to be, “I’m only pretending to be innocent”.
MR CARY GRANT
- Mr Grant in a still from Indiscreet, 1958 mptvimages.com
Is that a booty call, Mr Grant? Probably not, given that the actor has buttoned his pyjama top right up to the collar in a rather nerdy way, but what this look lacks in animal appeal it makes up for with its abundance of smooth sophistication. Accessorise with a good book, an early night, and neatly parted hair. And don’t forget to floss.
MR TRUMAN CAPOTE
- Mr Capote in his Brooklyn apartment, New York, 1958 Slim Aarons/ Getty Images
The life of the writer, it’s tempting to conclude from this shot, consists of days spent lounging decorously at home. While this conclusion is far from the truth, the photograph does accurately convey the fact that when it comes to sitting about reading, pyjamas are the garments that best balance elegance with comfort.
MR MARLON BRANDO
- Mr Brando in his grandmother’s house, California, 1949 Ed Clark/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Getty Images
It’s hard to imagine a calmer way to start the day than by drinking tea, wearing a dressing gown, with a dachshund on your lap. Here Mr Brando, who’s in Los Angeles rather than Downton Abbey, shows that a man needn’t wear velvet slippers with his robe, instead going for a pair of hoop-striped socks and some rather interesting lace-up espadrilles. There’s something slightly monkish about the overall affect.
MR THOMAS BECK
- Mr Beck in a studio portrait, circa 1935 Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
This American actor’s eye-catching, but relaxed outfit, shows why the 1930s remain a high point in the history of male elegance. The polka-dot dressing gown grabs our attention, but its verve is balanced by Mr Beck’s plain pyjamas. However, it’s the polished leather slippers that really distinguish this look.
MR MARCELLO MASTROIANNI AND MS BRIGITTE BARDOT
- Ms Bardot and Mr Mastroianni in a still from A Very Private Affair, 1962 mptvimages.com
Sharing a pair of pyjamas with a woman works extremely well as she’ll look good wearing just the top, and you’ll look good wearing only the trousers. In this shot Mr Mastroianni pretends to be asleep while Ms Bardot stretches, proving that simple solid colours work as well on French starlets as they do on the rest of us.
Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Contributing Editor, MR PORTER