The beach pyjama was an infinitely malleable garment, a blank canvas for the brightest colours and most eye-popping patterns, or the epitome of chic in crisply relaxed white. Sometimes a one-piece or overall-style garment, sometimes a set of mix and match tops and bottoms, it was the kind of garment that offered the best kind of glamour: that which was not fussy or time intensive, but that could be flung on without thinking and worn all day.
It was also as practical as it was sartorially popular, crafted from cooling fabrics like cotton, linen or silk, and saving the wearer’s skin from the ravages of sun and sand. However, as it developed, many pairs of beach pyjamas came with open-backed halter tops: capitalising on the growing trend for a golden tan. Post WWI, everything was shifting. Gender roles had been loosened and a taste for hedonism was in the air. New modes of holidaying were on the rise too – and a vacation was a great excuse for a new resort wardrobe, especially when it meant being able to push the boundaries of taste and respectability in a place that forwent work in favour of leisurely play.
However, despite their widespread appeal the beach pyjama still had a subversive edge – especially at a time when the presence of women in trousers away from the shoreline remained scandalous. Chanel herself was subject to the restrictive norms of the day, once being barred entry to into a casino while wearing beach pyjamas, with the proprietor Edouard Baudoin telling her that she was “living proof that one must not merely be dressed, but well dressed.” In nearby Monte Carlo, one woman was even briefly arrested for wearing them, in line with ancient laws about women not wearing men’s clothing.