Before the bikini - the beach pajama

Coco Chanel strolled the French Riviera in the early 1920s wearing beach pajamas – flowy, androgynous, wide-legged trousers that were stylish and practical.  She included the style in her 1922 collection for the modern woman.  Instead of being hindered by fitted dresses and skirts a woman could walk the sand free and relaxed.

The beach pajama was rather shocking in the 1920s because they were gender crossing.  The beach trousers evolved from menswear.  The “pyjama” was a lightweight style of loose pant with a fitted drawstring waistband that British colonials adopted from Indian Muslims in the 1800s.  The word itself came from the Persian word pay-jameh meaning leg garment and had nothing to do with sleep.


By the 1930s these swishy, palazzo pants became the uniform of wealthy ladies at summer resorts in Europe and America.  They remained popular as beachwear until the 1940s and influenced wide-leg pant styles for decades, including the palazzo pant of the 1960s.