Covid-19 Diary: Chilling Out in a Bed Jacket

None of my kids gave me a bed jacket for Mother’s Day, thank goodness. Because, as it turns out, I already have one.

A friend of mine ordered a bed jacket for herself last fall, when the weather turned chilly. She loves it. “My shoulders sometimes got cold when I read in bed,” she told me. “Wearing a robe was just too cumbersome. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I needed was a bed jacket.”

Back in the 1930s, alluring actresses lolling around in their fancy bedrooms made bed jackets a hot fashion item. Those bed jackets were made of flimsy material and were clearly not designed for warmth or modesty. I’m too young to remember those movies. But I’ll never forget a very special bed jacket I saw on black-and-white TV, in a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show appropriately entitled “The Bed Jacket.”

It’s Aunt Bee’s birthday. She longs for impractical present: a pale blue bed jacket with puffed sleeves and shirring around the shoulders and little flowers all through the shirring. She’d spotted it in the window of Luken’s Style Shop in downtown Mayberry. “It’s the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen,” she tells her friend Clara Edwards. Andy is clueless. He buys her two dozen preserve jars—wrapped up real nice—instead, but a mix-up leads Bee to believe she’s getting the bed jacket. She’s broken-hearted, of course, when she opens Andy’s gift, but he eventually makes things right. (Spoiler alert: Andy has to trade Eagle-Eye Annie, his favorite fishing pole, to the mayor to get the bed jacket.)

All of which led seven-year-old me to ask my mother to explain what a bed jacket actually was.

As far as I know, Mother never had one, though she did have a ratty gray sweater she sometimes wore over her nightgown when she sat in her armchair to read at night. I don’t think she ever wore the sweater to bed. But Mother definitely knew about bed jackets and said she’d always thought they were real glamorous. I disagreed. It seemed to me that only dumpy, frumpy, elderly women like Aunt Bee (who was actually only 57 years old when The Andy Griffith Show debuted) wore bed jackets.

Flash forward almost 60 years. After hearing that Friend had ordered a bed jacket for herself, I decided to get online to check things out. Amazing. There are bed jackets galore on websites too numerous to count. The most popular fabric by far is chenille. But you can also order brushed cotton or terrycloth or fleece or flannel or silk or satin. You can buy plain bed jackets or bed jackets adorned with lace and embroidery and ruffles and ribbons.

Here’s the really surprising news. Young women— women in their twenties and thirties–are crazy for bed jackets. They think them cute. Cozy. Warm without being bulky. The perfect addition to a pair of lounge pants and a sloppy t-shirt. These women admit to sometimes spending entire weekends relaxing around the house dressed in their bed jackets. They even confess to occasionally wearing them out in public.

As I began working on this column by watching “The Bed Jacket” on TV for the umpteenth time, I came to a shocking realization. I was wearing a bed jacket! It’s the same shade of gray as my mother’s ratty old sweater, though it’s made of fleece instead of soft yarn. Even though it has floppy sleeves and no buttons, I’ve always thought of it as a sweater. But now I know better.

And here’s a confession of my own: During these strange, strange days of sheltering at home, I sometimes wear my not-so-glamorous bed jacket for days at a time.

(May 10, 2020)