To Pajama or Not Pajama?


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The History Center’s archives contain hundreds of Downtown Orlando parade photos, stretching all the way back to the late 1800s. But there are two downtown parades in particular that we wish we had photos of: the pajama parades of 1929.

Pajamas started coming into fashion in the U.S. in the early 1900s. At first, they were only for men, but women soon adopted them and, in the 1920s, started wearing pajamas as more than just sleepwear to places like the beach over their bathing suits and to cocktail and dinner parties. An article in the Orlando Sentinel (Aug. 3, 1931) even advised women on what jewelry to pair with their different pajama outfits.

However, despite their increasing popularity, pajamas as daywear was still the subject of much debate. In Florida, Attorney General Fred H. Davis was forced to comment on the fad when a justice of the peace in Tampa called him to ask whether or not he should arrest people attending a Labor Day pajama party.

Parades during this time, including the pajama parades, were often led by the Reporter Star Newsboy Band, pictured here in the 1920s in another parade. (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

The Orlando Sentinel (Sept. 11, 1929) reported Davis’ response: “There is no law in state of Florida against the wearing of pajamas. In fact, they look better on a person than the person would look without them.”

One of the major concerns was modesty. In Bradenton, a man was reportedly arrested for wearing pajamas in public, but the charges were dismissed after city officials saw a photo of the outfit, which looked more like a dress suit than sleepwear. Indeed, pajama advocates argued that pajamas were actually a conservative option for comfortable daywear in the Florida heat. (Although one writer did facetiously warn Orlando gentlemen to please wear underwear when stepping out in pajamas.)

The pajama craze in Orlando culminated in two downtown parades in 1929. The first was hastily organized but turned into a runaway success, reportedly drawing thousands of people from across Central Florida. Prizes were offered for the most sensational, eye-catching pajamas, with 50-year-old businessman H. Clark Robertson taking home first place for his “harmonious royal purple creation” (Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 22, 1929).

The first parade was so popular that it was followed by another the following month: a masked pajama parade in honor of Halloween. This time, however, anti-pajama citizens had time to prepare. Christian evangelist T.T. Martin gave an impassioned speech in Orlando, warning that the parade would be a “vulgar and indecent” affair and a “disgrace” to the city’s reputation.

It didn’t matter, he said, that ladies would be more covered in their pajamas than they would normally be in their everyday attire; the mere “suggestiveness” of sleepwear in public was enough to make the “devilish pajama parade” a blasphemous display (Orlando Evening Star, Oct. 10, 1929).

Enough Orlandoans agreed with Martin that they started a petition to halt the “proposed semi-nude and indecent pajama parade of the mixed sex” (Orlando Evening Star, Oct. 14, 1929). In a meeting of the city commissioners, concerned citizens’ opinions clashed.

Ultimately, the commissioners decided to let the parade proceed, and the organizers agreed to a compromise. Men and women would march in two separate groups, and their attire would be censored. Before the parade, all participants gathered in the city hall courtroom for a pajama inspection by two city commissioners and the chief of police. If any ensemble was found to be inappropriate, they were barred from marching.

Despite the controversy, Orlando’s second pajama parade was still massively popular. Though only 36 women and six men participated, a crowd of thousands turned out to watch the spectacle. The Johnson family even brought their foxterrier Cinders, wearing his own pair of red satin pajamas. Cinders was apparently so adorable that he received a more detailed write-up in the Orlando Sentinel’s Kennel News column than did the human winner of the parade, Ms. Marianne Louise Smith of Winter Park.

There were several other pajama parades around Central Florida before the pajama fad eventually fell out of style. The History Center would love to preserve this weird moment in history in our collection. If you have photos or stories about the 1929 pajama parades or similar events, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Lesleyanne Drake at lesleyanne.drake@ocfl.net.

Lesleyanne Drake is the Curator of Collections at the Orange County Regional History Center.

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