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This would have been perfect -- if it didn't contain what some say may be a dangerous chemical.

A few weeks ago Little Girl ended up in one of my old t-shirts at bedtime. It’s a long story, but the end result was that she loved sleeping in a “nightgown,” and wanted to know why she didn’t have one. The answer, of course, is that her mother doesn’t like nightgowns. I can clearly remember having my own nightgowns twist around my legs in the middle of the night. There I was in bed, sweaty, scared, and confined until I woke up enough to free myself of the torture that was my nightgown. Still, if the kid liked having a nightgown, why shouldn’t I try to buy one? I tried, but it is much, much more difficult than you could ever imagine.

I started my quest at Gymboree. I love Gymmies. They wear well, wash well, and don’t get all pilly. But while they sell nightgowns, there’s a problem with them. Two, actually. They are polyester AND contain flame-retardant. I don’t know what scares me more, thinking about my kid sweating her butt off in polyester or having her come in contact with flame retardant, which has been found to cause a raft of health problems. On second thought, it was definitely the flame retardant that gave me the greatest pause.

Flame retardant, according to one recent study, has been found to “trigger obesity, anxiety and developmental problems” in rats exposed to the chemicals. Other researchers are trying to link it to autism. Heck, the evidence is mounting so quickly THREE Republican Senators joined Democrats in calling for tougher restrictions on the stuff. So yes, ugh, Gymboree. Why did you put that junk in your nightgowns when your original pant-and-shirt Gymmies are 100 percent cotton jersey? I’ll answer for you: Because you had to. By law, children’s sleepwear must be flame retardant. Cotton pant-and-shirt Gymmies don’t need flame retardants added because they are designed to be worn snugly on the body. (Learn more about the laws children’s clothing manufacturers have to follow by reading this fascinating primer, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Office of Compliance Children’s Sleepwear Regulations.)

At the time, though, I didn’t know that so I continued my search. I tried Lands’ End next. They had cotton nightgowns, but only for adults. No kid nightgowns at all. Then I tried J.C. Penney and Carter’s. Oh, and Kohl’s and Target. I found lots of nightgowns, but none of them were cotton and almost all of them contained flame retardants. It was very annoying. Finally, I went to the Holy Grail of shopping sites, Zappos.com. I found a pretty cotton nightgown, but it was flame retardant. Good thing, since I didn’t really want to plunk down $43 for a nightgown. I am a good online shopper, so I kept trying until I realized that my efforts were futile.

Tonight, Little Girl is sleeping in the cotton shorts and top I got her at Children’s Place, but as I was tucking her in she asked me again for her “pretty nightgown.” When was it coming in the mail, she wanted to know. Since it’s going to be nearly impossible to find a nightgown without flame retardant, I’m thinking I may try to sew one. Anyone have a good pattern they can lend me?

Eagle-eyed readers may notice that I tagged this, among other things, ‘blame it on Big Tobacco.’ The Chicago Tribune had an incredible series that explains why flame retardants are dangerous and how they got their start. (Basically, people wanted to make sure they wouldn’t burn their homes down if they fell asleep smoking so the tobacco companies pushed for firefighters to get on their side and back flame retardants. Tobacco’s hold over us and our environment is frightening.)

Here’s the full investigative series. If you can only read one thing, though, take a look at this story that explains where you can find the highest levels of the chemicals, why babies get a higher daily dose of the stuff, and why you should wash your hands after touching dryer lint.

9 Responses to “Why Can’t I Buy a Child’s Cotton Nightgown? (And Why Flame Retardants Should Be Banned.)”

  1. dev says:

    I wonder if it is against the law to offer to make you one?

  2. Sine says:

    There are definitely cottage businesses out there who sell cotton nightgowns. I have ordered things from this business before: http://www.thekingsdaughters.com/nightgowns.html

    Their workmanship was beautiful and their customer service was impeccable.

  3. Lisa Butwid says:

    I have always had this issue, as well. I have always loved Mini Boden’s girl nightgowns in jersey, short sleeve in summer and long in winter. They have become so popular now, however, that you can almost not get them unless you order right when they come out. Mini Boden is from the UK and they are also a good place to get real drawstrings on pjs and pants. My kids are so thin that they could never get sweats or pjs in their length until I found real drawstrings from another country. It is so frustrating. I came across this because I am looking for the cotton nightie for my 11 yr old daughter and have missed the window. Ugh.

  4. mothercrow says:

    Thanks for this. I have done similar futile searches. I have ordered 100% nightgowns for my daughter from Bodenusa.com (based in UK, I think and possibly not held to same restrictions). But they are so popular (at $40!) that they’re already sold out this year. Etsy.com has a nice selection of cotton nightgowns for girls, too. But the cheapest option in our house has been to take an old t-shirt from my daughter’s drawer and an old shirt from my husband, cut the top off his and sew it as a skirt onto the bottom of my daughter’s t-shirt, voila! a nightgown, no pattern required!

  5. Caran says:

    Cotton slips are also a good option. My daughter loves her April Cornell “nightgown” and Hanna Andersson “nightgown.” I just look for slips now because of the same problem.

  6. susan stevens says:

    There was a time, many years ago, when manufacturers made nightgowns for little girls out of highly flammable, horrible, synthetic fabrics that would burst into flame and literally melt onto the child’s skin. In an effort to ban these fabrics, politicians went overboard and banned cotton because it was flammable. My daughter was born in 1972 and about a year old at the time. I ran out and bought Carters cotton pjs and nightgowns in every size I could find before the ban was in place. After that i found ones made in Europe and labeled “playwear.” The law should be changed!

  7. Jessica says:

    I know this is a zombie, but I wanted to leave a note if anyone was looking. If you are on the hunt, like me, then you might be pleased to learn that wool is a wonderful alternative! We are not talking about your grandma’s itchy wool sweaters either. We are talking about gloriously thin, micro-spun merino wool that is so squishy you want to hug it forever! Wool is naturally flame retardant, so it doesn’t require any chemicals added. It’s also naturally temperature regulating, so no overheating or being cold. It’s not cheap, but it is available. My favorite night gown for the toddler+ age group is from Engel and it is a Merino/Silk blend that is around $50. They have them from 2T through women’s XXL. Wool has lots of fun properties like being naturally antimicrobial as well. And with a little time in an easy lanolin bath, wool pants can even be used as waterproof cloth diaper covers! And all this to say that for normal wear, a wool nightgown only needs to be washed once a month or so, unless it gets dirty. How neat is that?

  8. Jane Adams says:

    I have gotten my girls 100% jersey cotton dresses at Land’s End and we use them as nightgowns.

  9. Amy says:

    My daughter (5) has eczema and cannot wear polyester; but she “must” have a nightgown. I go to thrift stores and buy 100% cotton casual dresses for her to sleep in. I try to get simple styles with no buttons, bric-a-brac, etc. We’ve also worn the Lands’ End cotton dresses as gowns. It’s so frustrating, I know. The Carter’s styles are so cute but icky polyester.

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