compulsive shopping

I Can’t Stop Buying Dowdy Nightgowns

The author in a vintage nightie. It’s no longer available, but the ones below are. Photo: Courtesy of Chantel Tattoli

In a post-thong, pro-granny-panty era — during which prairie-core brands like Batsheva and Brock Collection have risen like full moons — my attraction for a certain type of nightgown has grown. And I am not alone. Not long ago, on Instagram, Hello Beautiful founder Greer Simpkins, whose cotton-forward lingerie line can be found at Opening Ceremony and Need Supply, posted a trio of dishabilles on her shower rod. Last October, the writer Sadie Stein confessed to having splurged on a $700 D. Porthault nightie. (She deemed others from the line “too Blanche Devereaux.”) The artist-illustrator Jennifer May Reiland was in Paris around then, snapping up antique-like gowns handmade by nuns in convents. Sandeep Salter, of Salter House in Brooklyn, now stocks such embroidered all-cotton nightdresses with mother-of-pearl buttons.

Sure, dowdy nightgowns run counter to the boudoir’s sexy-slip moment: but they’re a reaction, too, to the men’s PJ sets women have adopted indoors and on the street, and to the cult of athleisure, for that matter, which has blurred categories like work and leisure and “at rest” versus “at play” to annoying (and disorientating) effects. What if I want to lay claim to a time and a place for my recharge — with a costume made to match? “These nightgowns are a comfort blanket and also like armor,” says Simpkins. “A piece of chain mail,” Stein wrote. That’s how I feel in one. Like a frilly force to be reckoned with.

Dowdy Nightgowns I Own

I clocked Simpkins’s purple gown as a Celestine right away. We’re both enthusiasts of the German-made line’s delicate, long-form gowns and baby-dolls, which recall the vintage nighties I bummed off my Gaga and which Neiman-Marcus is kind enough to occasionally put on sale.

Fine frippery made in India from organic cotton — featuring details like cutwork embroidery, netting, lace, and French seams. The “English Garden” print is just optional. Clinch (and cinch) it with one of their peignoirs.

This one’s U.S.A.-made, and the semi-see-through gauze cotton is cut from the same whispery stuff you see drying on the line in period dramas.

The flared collar, sleeves, and hemline, plus the rosettes on the smocking on this one got me. I can confirm that it also dyes beautifully with indigo.

Dowdy Nightgowns I’d Like to Own

Flannel in a traditional Alpine pattern must be just the thing for swanning around in snowed-in log cabins, gingerbread houses, or just slaving at one’s desk. In fact, the hardcore granny styles from this heritage brand are what the Pulitzer-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein liked to work in. (For spring and summer, Lanz’s sister brand Eileen West traffics in lighter fare that approaches ’90s Laura Ashley.)

Simpkins tipped me off to this brand. It was founded by a former assistant to Vogue’s Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, and the gowns are made of Egyptian cotton spun in Switzerland and woven on old looms in Italy. Note: I grade pale yellow superior to baby blue and pink every time.

If I didn’t live abroad and still had a Prime account, this would be a done deal. Martha here ticks many boxes: she’s long of sleeve, ankle-length, rosy, ruffly, ribboned, white-worked, and smocked.