Don’t let the bedbugs bite

December 19, 2013

Denton 1
Every year at this time, and during the run-up to Valentine’s Day, the public-radio station I listen to runs sponsorship announcements from an outfit known as Pajamagram. Their deal is that you can contact them and have pajamas delivered to someone in the same manner in which you might send flowers if flowers didn’t require a second mortgage. I’ve being hearing these seasonal announcements for years, but today for the first time the information that Pajamagram can provide footie pjs reminded me of a name I haven’t thought of in decades: Dr. Denton. When I was a kid, “Dr. Denton” was a euphemism for pajamas with feet. My brother and I wore them, and that’s what we called them. These “blanket sleepers,” as they were more formally known, were manufactured by the Dr. Denton Sleeping Garment Mills of Centreville, Michigan. The company was founded in 1865 as the Michigan Central Woolen Company and operated through the first half of the twentieth century.

Denton 2
It wasn’t just in our household that footed pajamas were called Dr. Dentons. In fact, the usage was so common that the brand name became the generic term for the garment, what is technically known as a “genericized trade mark.” The design was patented by Whitley Denton, an employee of Michigan Central. His patent application emphasized that the garment, including the feet but sans the soles and arms, would be made in one piece with a minimum of cutting and stitching and seams, rendering the sleepers more economical to manufacture and more comfortable for wearers. Like the classic “union suit” the sleeper had a “trap door” in back so the user could go to the bathroom without having to disrobe.

You can see Denton’s patent application, including the drawings of the original design, by clicking HERE. Denton took on the honorary doctorate, at least for purposes of the  brand name, to create the impression that there was some medical wisdom behind the pajamas. Although the original manufacturer is gone, other companies have used the trade mark, including Simplicity, which for a while was selling Dr. Denton patterns to what I imagine was a limited market.

Denton 4

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2 Responses to “Don’t let the bedbugs bite”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I knew nothing of the history of this sort of garment, or of Dr. Denton, but when I looked at the photos the first thing that came to mind was poor Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, coming down the stairs in that pink monstrosity his aunt had made for him. Granted, Dr. Denton’s didn’t have the rabbit ears, but the general idea was the same.

    For a while, Norm Thompson and other high-end merchandisers offered a version for adult women. There were some differences – no feet included, no “trap door” – but otherwise they were the same. As my mother aged, she complained regularly about being cold. Her Dr. Denten wannabe did the trick.

    And just in case you’ve missed it, Dr. Denton’s (known today as a “onesie”) have been politicized. I’ve been enjoying the photoshopping and other commentary on this little gem .

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