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 fur, bows, and ribbons, optionally with spaghetti straps. Sometimes it is made of sheer or translucent fabric like nylon or chiffon or silk.
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.
Babydolls became a prominent part of the “kinderwhore” look during the early-to-mid-1990s due to the popularity of riot Grrrl and grunge performers like Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland.
It is now a highly 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.