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A babydoll is a short, sometimes sleeveless, loose-fitting nightgown or negligee intended as nightwear for women. It sometimes has formed cups called a bralette for cleavage with an attached, loose-fitting skirt falling in length usually between the upper thigh and the belly button. The garment is often trimmed with lace, ruffles, appliques, marabou, bows, and ribbons, optionally with spaghetti straps. Sometimes it is made of sheer or translucent fabric such as nylon or chiffon or silk.
The creation of the super-short nightgown is attributed to the American lingerie designer Sylvia Pedlar who produced them in 1942 in response to fabric shortages during World War II. Although her designs became known as "babydolls", Pedlar disliked the name and chose not to use it herself.
The name was popularized by the 1956 movie Baby Doll starring Carroll Baker in the title role as a 19-year-old nymphet, which essentially marked the beginning of the enduring popularity of the style for adults. Baby Doll pajamas in the 1950s through the 1960s consisted of a top and a loose fitting short bloomer bottom with elasticized waist and legs. In the 1970s through the 1990s the bloomer bottom was replaced by closer fitting briefs with elastic waist and legs. The most recent versions of baby doll pajamas have eliminated the elastic on the legs, the bottoms being either shorts or tap pants.
It is now an eroticized item of adult apparel, often classified as a form of lingerie. Adult babydolls are quite different from the infant babydolls; they fully expose the woman's legs, and some styles emphasize or deliberately expose the breasts as well. The gown is often sold as a set with matching panties, as a typical babydoll is short enough that underwear is visible if worn. Styles of the same general length but not intended to emphasize sex appeal are sometimes called shortie nightgowns.
Babydolls are now available in a sufficiently wide variety of styles that many lingerie retailers consider babydolls a distinct department. Modern babydolls often vary considerably from the styles of the 1960s and 1970s. Babydoll negligees from the 1950s to the early 1980s are now collectible vintage items. Some babydolls open in front and resemble a robe or peignoir.
Short daywear dresses of a similar style are sometimes called babydoll dresses; the name is sometimes two words, baby doll, and sometimes hyphenated, baby-doll. Some styles are similar to what is worn by dolls in the form of infants, and by some infants; the gown is short enough that diapers are easily changed. However, there may be an alternative origin for the style, if one considers the lineage of lace-trimmed shortie bedjackets and bed-capes of the 1930s and 1940s.
Babydolls are now becoming popular as bridal lingerie as they prove to be a more affordable alternative to a bridal corset and the buyer usually has a greater choice of designs and colours.
- Blausen, Whitney. "Sylvia Pedlar". Fashion Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
- Barbier, Muriel & Boucher, Shazia (2003). The Story of Lingerie. Parkstone. ISBN 1-85995-804-4
- Cox, Caroline (2000). Lingerie: a Lexicon of Style. Scriptum Editions. ISBN 1-902686-08-X