I admit to a fondness for a bed-jacket. Unless they are vintage clothing buffs, most people under a certain age these days have never heard of such a garment. In general bed-jackets are lacy, elegant and feminine and although originally made for the boudoir they can translate well to evening wear or be worn as a cardigan by the modern woman who loves a vintage touch.
I have an extensive collection of vintage knitting books and the pattern books tell the story of the bed-jacket's popularity. The heyday of the bed-jacket appears to have been the 1920s to the 1940s. They were still worn in the 1950s but by the mid 1960s their popularity was in decline. The bed-jacket survived into the 1970s and even into the '80s, but would have only been worn by elderly women. Why was this?
My theory is heating, or lack thereof. In the '20s, '30s and '40s, houses were cold. People wore long woollen underwear and long wool knitted dressing gowns. In the post war years home heating improved. Some people even had central heating. Children's clothing of the period echoes this change. The Liberty bodice, a child's woollen under vest that had been popular for decades, also began a decline in popularity in the 1950s for the same reason. People no longer had to wear their thermals at home. Patterns for knitted woollen underwear no longer appear in books published in the 1950s.
What is a bed-jacket?
The bed-jacket, also sometimes called a dressing jacket, was usually lacy and feminine, hand knitted, waist length, and worn over one's nightgown or pyjamas for warmth while sitting in bed reading or having breakfast in bed. The cape was also a popular style for the boudoir. They were usually made in pastel colors or white. It could also be worn while sitting at one's dressing table, doing hair, applying cosmetics, reading the mail, or just getting organised for the day. The dressing gown was the full length version of the dressing jacket, and I also have patterns for hand knitted dressing gowns, often lacy and knitted in very fine yarn. They must have taken months or even years to knit and have been difficult to launder, but they would have been warm. No polar fleece in those days. In Australia and the UK we still use the term dressing gown for the garment donned between the bed and getting dressed for the day. Americans favor the term bathrobe.
Not all bed-jackets were knitted. Many were designed for the warmer seasons and were worn for reasons of modesty as well as a little warmth. These are real lingerie pieces and were made in silks, satins, rayon florals and later in nylon. These may have been embroidered, smocked, quilted or made of lace.
The bed-jacket was also worn by convalescents and by new mothers. By the late 1940s bed-jackets appear in books of baby knitting patterns, clearly aimed at expectant mothers. New mothers had strict rules for staying in bed after birthing their babies, as long as two weeks back in Victorian times. This "lying in" period continued into the first half of the 20th century, though maybe not for quite as long. One had to look pretty in hospital and at home with a new baby, and the bed-jacket served.
In the 1960s brushed Bri-nylon bed-jackets with a sheer overlay were very popular and these are quite commonly found.
By the 1970s and early '80s the bed-jacket was usually only worn by older women for convalescence or visits to hospital. I remember making one for my grandmother at about that time as her eyesight had failed. And only a couple of years ago I remember selling a vintage bed-jacket to a woman who needed it for a trip to hospital. When my own mother was in hospital a few years ago I found her a beautiful knitted bed-jacket in my store. She told me that the nurses said "What IS that? Isn't it beautiful, and where did you get it?"
Having shown so many knitted bed-jackets, I have to note that like all knitwear, it's not very common to find knitted bed-jackets from before the 1960s in decent condition. Moths and poor laundering mean they have relatively short lives. However, there are LOTs of nylon bed -jackets about and a reasonable number of the silk or rayon summer pretties. So, luckily we have the patterns so that we can knit repro vintage bed-jackets. There are a fair number of patterns for sale on Ebay and Etsy.
Today, there are so many beautiful vintage bed-jackets around and I for one cannot resist them. They make beautiful little evening jackets and cardigans for day wear over a "frock", or paired with jeans for a bit of edge. Call it a bed-jacket, dressing jacket, boudoir jacket, lingerie jacket or just a jacket.
Too many to choose from