Designer Emily Campbell knows a good nightie. Her company, If Only If, specializes in the kind of breezy cotton-voile pieces that are made for midsummer frolicking on a lawn, with daisies springy beneath the feet. (Think of Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, with a shoulder coyly peeking from beneath a sheer white slip.)
Campbell inherited the business from her mother at the start of the pandemic. She used Instagram to tap into a younger demographic, amassing a cult following that is ready to buy at the click of a button. Her silk nightgown in How-to-Lose-a-Guy-in-10-Days butter yellow sold out in 48 hours flat. “I shot it on my friend Pandora Sykes while we were on holiday together, uploaded the iPhone shots to the Web site, and it just flew,” she says.
If Only If’s success isn’t an isolated incident. The entire nightgown category is booming. Desmond & Dempsey, a brand known for its traditional pajamas, introduced a square-necked nightie in 2021, and already its sales have grown 400 percent. Much of it is about comfort— what founder Molly Goddard describes as “a flattering square neckline, drapey low back, adjustable straps, and a cut that just flows all around you.” Unlike with pajamas, there are no constricting waistbands or buttons.
More than that, a nightie can be a portal into another sort of life. Why not channel one of the March sisters, tucked up in a wrought-iron bed, or perhaps Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday? “It’s unashamedly feminine,” says Campbell of the aesthetic. “We get many customers who try the nighties having only worn pajamas, and are converted after one wear.”
But there’s no need to convert Martha Ward, the fashion director of Condé Nast Traveller and stylist to Gillian Anderson and Minnie Driver. “They all serve a purpose,” she says of the 70 nightgowns in her collection. Around 30 of them, she says, can be worn as dresses too. “You only need to add a little belt and reach for a basket and you’re ready for the world,” she says.
Ward has spent decades scouring antique markets and French brocantes for the best broderie and linen. “The intricate detailing and craftsmanship on Victorian and Edwardian nighties couldn’t be done these days,” she says. “The embroidery, lace, pin tucks, ruffles, and ribbons … No one has the skills or the hands to do it anymore.”
For those seeking a nightie that’s more boudoir than bedroom, sultry styles are back, too. The best of them, from Florentine brand Loretta Caponi and English designer Olivia von Halle, nod to the look of Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight.
These are undoubtedly sexy, but don’t write off the appeal of a more classic white nightie, either. They can, after all, be rather sheer. So this season, there’s a nightie for every dreamer. At least until they sell out.
Daisy Dawnay is a London-based writer