Our story starts on Instagram, where all modern novellas do. Hill House Home posted a photo of its founder, Nell Diamond (no relation!), in the decor-and-more brand’s tartan “Nap Dress.” Nell had styled it with a black turtleneck, opaque tights and platform shoes, and just like that, a dress meant for nighttime was dressed for daytime, as sleeping gowns so frequently are.
“Wear your nightie to cat cafes and operas,” fashion publications always try to tell me.
“Negligées are not just for the bedroom,” says the convincing yet fully-clothed lingerie salesperson.
Every season, at least one designer will promote the wearing of slinky slip dresses to parties and PTA meetings, as though layering a gentle cardigan over my shoulders would distract from the fact that my headlights were on and I didn’t even have a kid in this school. It makes no sense, and yet, their silky siren songs work on me. Damn them. I’ve worn nighties to dayties and the occasional negligée to dinner, finding that they do indeed pair exceptionally well with heels and cardigans. So the real question is: What’s it like to actually sleep in one?
Don’t they bunch up uncomfortably around your butt, or are they no more cumbersome than a big tee? Might they be my solution to night sweats, or will they cause me to sweat even more from all the pressure? Do straps slip mid-slumber, allowing boobs to fly akimbo? What about that great hoo-ha breeze one expects from an open-ended garment—isn’t such a ventilation system rendered useless if your skirt gets tied up in sheets?
Not to mention the question I feared the most: What if I’m just not a nightgown-for-its-intended-purpose kind of person?
With that in mind, I decided to go to bed with a different gown each night for one work week to see if nightgowns really were suited for sleeping, or if they should (respectfully) keep their day job.
Sunday Night: Hill House Home’s “Caroline Nap Dress”
Like so many Sunday nights before it, this one was fraught with an elbow-gripping anxiety the moment the sun went down and I began to list out all that I had failed to do the week prior, the lifespan leading up to it, plus other worries both based in reality and not. When I feel like this, the last thing on my mind is: How can I make this moment more aesthetically pleasing? Feet planted deep in the quicksand of untethered dread, I’m far more likely to seek out a fleece-lined swaddle, and possibly a thumb should I go full childhood reversion.
That evening, however, my apartment’s aggressive steam-heat radiators kicked on toward the high holy heavens. Here’s how hot it was: If I were an ice cube, I’d have been dead. It was so hot that I had no choice but to strip down to my skivvies and put on Hill House Home’s lightweight cotton nap dress, and when I did, I’m not saying my anxiety went away, but the mood changed.
Something about its pretty Swiss dots and princess sleeves and the way the hem kissed my ankles when I paced back and forth during a phone call made me want to spiff myself up a bit. So I brushed my hair. Combed my eyebrows. Used a fancy whipped body cream that’s publicly on bathroom display but generally self-forbidden. Made myself tea. Oiled my face. Bla bla bla, self care, I know, but still: I welcome any and all domino effects that lightly soothe my nerves, with this dress, the soothing dominos kept on falling.
That night I went to sleep in crispy fresh sheets, clean hair in a ballet bun, nap dress fully engaged. “This is decadence,” I shouted, just like Gerard Butler’s Leonidas in Sparta.
In the morning, I awoke a nightgown convert.
Could you move your legs in this nightgown? Yes, full extension. Before I fall asleep, I usually spend about five minutes in bed thrashing my lower limbs in search of cold spots, and felt no resistance at the hem.
Did the elastic and ruffly rouched bits around the neck and arms drive you insane? Not at all. My arms are prone to claustrophobia, yet they felt free and happy in these sleeves. The elastic rouching felt as if it were made of whispers and added a similar amount of pressure you might apply if tasked with holding the hand of a darling child who just sneezed directly into her palms, which is to say: light, barely there, but just there enough that the child feels safe and loved.
Did the nightgown hitch up around your butt? Yes, but it didn’t bother me at all—and I am very much a princess-and-the-pea kind of sleeper; it doesn’t take much to bother me, yet this was a non-issue
On a scale of 1 to 10 knots, with 1 being “no wind at all” (leggings in a sleeping bag) and 10 being “proper windy” (naked, top of sheets, with air conditioning and ceiling fan on…maniac), what’s the southern breeze-factor? Considering it’s mid-winter and I sleep with a pretty hefty duvet, I’m going to give this lightweight, 100% cotton nightgown (with no underpants on under) a southern breeze score of 9 knots. Naked, but not.
Monday Night: Salter House’s Sleeveless Nightdress
Salter House is a beautiful boutique/coffee shop in Brooklyn Heights filled with beautiful handmade versions of things you didn’t know you needed beautiful handmade versions of (but very much DO), like brooms. I was this close to buying myself and everyone in my family handmade brooms from Salter House for Christmas and the only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want to check a bag. If I’m invited to your wedding this year, guess what you’re getting?
Salter House also sells beautiful vintage nightgowns, pajamas, and robes to wear around one’s beautiful home. Close your eyes, imagine what you’d wear to gently sweep away the occasional country cobweb from your wildflower-filled country house with your beautiful, beautiful broom, and that’s what their nightgowns look like. So yeah, I felt like an absolute angel falling asleep.
Could you move your legs? I could Pirouette if I wanted to, which I did.
Did the embroidery itch, irritate, or in any way disrupt the peaceful freedom of your sleeping bosom? Not at all. I do, however, think that if I asked it to lightly tickle the inside of my left or right arm until I fell asleep and then keep doing tickles for a few more minutes until I was definitely fast asleep, it would have.
Did the nightgown hitch up around your butt? It hung out around my knees, but as with the Hill House Home dress, it didn’t actually bother me.
On a scale of 1 to 10 knots, with 1 being “no wind at all” (leggings in a sleeping bag) and 10 being “proper windy” (naked, top of sheets, with air conditioning and ceiling fan on…maniac), what’s the southern breeze-factor? An 8. Not a full 9 because I knew I had a nightgown on when I closed my eyes, but barely.
Tuesday Night: A La Perla Slip Dress
A very tall, very heavy gold-framed mirror sits on the wall across my bed. I know it sounds kind of sexy to have a mirror across from your bed, but it’s more-so alarming to see yourself sit up in the morning, especially if you, like me, have poor-enough vision that, without contacts in, the human face registers as one big blur with two black abysses where eyes would normally go. On La Perla slip day, however, I woke up feeling like a glamorous 1940s Hollywood film ingénue.
Could you move your legs? As a former Taekwondo black belt, I know great kicking, and I know great kicking clothes, and this, my friends, was a surprisingly great bed-kicking dress. Just ask the person who sleeps next to me, or don’t!
I had some trouble walking around the apartment before bed because I’m short and the slip dress was a little long and I do not own any beautiful brooms so I was scared to get dust etc. on the hem of a white silk La Perla sample that I had to return to La Perla. I was also scared to go near food or anything that wasn’t clear water, so all late night snacking had to take place before I got dressed for bed. Other than that, it was divine in the truest sense of the word.
Did the slinky strap fall off your shoulder to expose your right breast, thus creating an accidental classical Baroque portrait pose? It certainly may have.
Did the nightgown hitch up around your butt? I sleep in white La Perla silk slips now. I no longer acknowledge such vulgar questions.
On a scale of 1 to 10 knots, with 1 being “no wind at all” (leggings in a sleeping bag) and 10 being “proper windy” (naked, top of sheets, with air conditioning and ceiling fan on…maniac), what’s the southern breeze-factor? A delicious 7. It was like sleeping in liquid satin.
Wednesday Night: My Three Graces London Dress That Makes Me Feel Like Leonardo Da Vinci in Ever After
I am usually too scared to sleep naked because what if there’s an outdoor emergency. My Three Graces London nightgown that I’ve never actually worn as a nightgown made for a nice middle ground: as open and airy as if I were freshly born, yet still front-and-butt-safe should I have to climb down a fire escape.
Could you move your legs? I personally cannot cartwheel, but one could cartwheel in this dress.
You sound like an athletic sleeper. Were you at all nervous about the ribbon-element near your neck what with all the writhing and twisting you do? No, I was not worried to sleep near a ribbon, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s not like running with undone shoelaces. The worst thing that would have happened is that it would have come undone, and I would have added one more night of classical Baroque-posing to my repertoire. Also, it would have been easy to tie back up in the case of that fire escape.
Did the nightgown hitch up around your butt? It hitched up around my bellybutton, but let me tell you, it was refreshing. Now, if you happen to harbor a complicated wish-fear that the cast of Queer Eye’s Fab Five could barge into your room at any moment to declare that Bobby’s going to renovate your entire apartment (wish) and find you: sheets kicked off, half-naked, snoring, sweaty, entirely unaware that a film crew was going to show up that morning (fear), then just give your bedsheets the ol’ hospital-bedsheet-tuck the night before and really secure yourself in there.
On another note, I’d just like to add that going to bed feeling “put together” really helps which side of bed I wake up on.
On a scale of 1 to 10 knots, with 1 being “no wind at all” (leggings in a sleeping bag) and 10 being “proper windy” (naked, top of sheets, with air conditioning and ceiling fan on…maniac), what’s the southern breeze-factor? A full 10. It’s like wearing a gossamer cloud.
Thursday Night: Lanz of Salzburg’s Classic Tartan Pajama Dress
With buttons all done up to the collar, plus cool earrings and gigantic fashion sneakers, one could wear Lanz of Salzburg’s tartan flannel pajama dress to Copenhangen Fashion Week and adequately call it a day, but this particular gown was made for night. When it comes to the bible of classic nightgowns, particularly if you’re from Vermont or New Hampshire, Lanz of Salzburg is like a holy sacrament.
Could you move your legs? My legs moved me! Full starfish stretch-ability.
Did you sleep with the collar buttoned or unbuttoned? Unbuttoned, figuring no one was going to stop me on the street and ask for my picture while I sleep.
Did the nightgown hitch up around your butt? It did not, come to think of it. Maybe the weight of the flannel held it down. Or I slept like an immobilized hot dog all night.
On a scale of 1 to 10 knots, with 1 being “no wind at all” (leggings in a sleeping bag) and 10 being “proper windy” (naked, top of sheets, with air conditioning and ceiling fan on…maniac), what’s the southern breeze-factor? I give it 5 knots due to its heavier flannel fabric, which means it’s doing its job. I will say this: sleeping in a flannel nightgown can sometimes feel like sleeping in a Hot Pocket and is a lot more pleasant if you temporarily turn off the steam heat radiator in your bedroom (please don’t tell my landlord) and open a window. The Lanz of Salzburg pajama dress is supposed to be cozy. It’s supposed to make you feel like you know how to build a fire, even if your fire-building expertise stops at lighting candles. Still, it’s nice to have some air moving through the flue, and that’s the benefit of a nightdress.
So, are you or are you not a nightgown person? The truest test of these guinea pig experiments is always whether or not I continue a practice after writing my piece. In this case, I took two weeks to consider the question and will now answer in earnest: Yes, Virginia. I am now a nightgown-at-nightime person, fully converted. I am wearing one right now, in fact. And if you are, too, let’s have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned slumber party down in the comments.