Pillow Fights: The Crazy History (and Future), From Innocent Pastime to Professional Sporting Event
While most sleep psychologists will designate the bedroom as a sanctuary, exclusive to sleep and sex, we can’t help but think there’s a third use for it: pillow fighting.
The spontaneous pastime, typically involving two participants (and no, they don’t have to be lingerie-clad women like the WWE made popular in the early 2000s), has centuries-old origins steeped in tradition. In fact, pillow fighting is now a full-fledged professional sport set in boxing-like rings that have attracted the likes of MMA fighters from around the world.
“Pillow fighting gives us the thrill of hand-to-hand combat without gruesome injuries, blood and extreme violence,” says Robert Albolino, Senior Vice President of Operations for FightPFC, which hosts Pillow Fight Championship events across the country. “It’s for everyone, of every age group. Instead of black eyes and broken bones, you can get a great workout that is fun.”
“Our style of competitive pillow fighting is also a safe and therapeutic new activity for kids of all ages,” he adds.
If you’ve ever lovingly walloped a bedmate or tried to amp up a sleepover with a bit of feather-fluffing, you might have wondered: How did pillow fights come about? And what does the future hold for pillow fights as a global, revenue-generating sport? We did some research, and chatted with Albolino to get the full lowdown.
The History of Pillow Fights
There is no exact date or event that marks the world’s first pillow fight, but there are many instances in history where the raucous act was documented.
“Ancient Romans are said to have engaged in pillow fights during feasts and banquets,” reveals Albolino. “And in the Middle Ages, it’s said that pillow fighting was popular among knights who would engage in mock battles using feather-filled sacks.”
The 19th century saw a rise in pillow fighting among children in particular, back when pillows were almost exclusively stuffed with feathers that would explode out upon impact. The phenomenon was repeatedly captured in the early days of film, in titles like “A Pillow Fight,” “Pillow Fight,” “New Pillow Fight” and “Pillow Fight, Reversed.”
“It was and is often played at slumber parties, sleepovers, and other social gatherings as a harmless way to blow off steam and have fun,” Albolino adds, noting that the inevitable flurry of feathers only enhanced the drama of these captured moments.
On a professional level, FightPFC was created by Steve and Paul Williams in 2018 and is the only recognized professional pillow fighting sports league in the world. In fact, the organization holds a Guinness World Record for the first pay-per-view pillow fight, which took place in Miami on January 29, 2022, and commenced as a bracketed tournament resulting in a title belt and a $5,000 check for the champion of the men’s and women’s events.
The Best Pillows for Pillow Fighting
It’s safe to say that pillows have evolved over the years. Using denser materials, like foam, will certainly change the nature of a pillow fight, yielding more of an impact than a puff of light down feathers. Suffice it to say, the best pillows for pillow fighting are ones that will obviously not cause harm, to people or to pillows. Be sure that there are no sharp zippers, buttons or tags, and that the fill of the pillows has plenty of give.
FightPFC uses custom pillowcases made from a durable rip-stop nylon that emits a distinct sound when striking someone. The pillowcase and pillow together weigh only two pounds
Since most pillow fighting is spontaneous, you’ll likely use what you have on hand; but look for light, fluffy pillows, ideally in the same size for each participant. The goal is not to scratch, bruise, or poke an eye out. Instead, game play should be innocent. Consider these down or down alternative pillows as your pillow of choice at your next pillow fight:
Sleepy's PrimaLoft Pillow
The Sleepy’s PrimaLoft Pillow is a soft, down-alternative, hypoallergenic, antimicrobial pillow that holds its shape, regulates body temperature, and repels moisture to stay fresh. Plush and lightweight, this is a great pillow of choice to wield against your opponent.
Sleepy's REACTEX® Pillow
The Sleepy’s REACTEX® Pillow comes in low, medium or high profiles to suit different sleepers, but we’d like to think it’s also to suit different fighters. Choose the high-profile pillow for maximum fluffiness.
How to Win a Pillow Fight
Classic pillow fight rules are simple: Hit your opponent until he or she surrenders, or a pillow rips open and is no longer usable in the process. [Note: If you’ve been fitted for your ideal pillow, consider using something that won’t compromise your excellent sleep quality!]
Professional pillow fighting, however, takes it to a whole other level. A comprehensive list of rules can be found here, but points are generally awarded based on the type of strike, as well as its impact. Knockdowns, for example, are when a fighter causes an opponent to fall down or touch the floor of the ring. The offender will then receive five points.
There is also a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind during any match: Do swing your pillow at full force and incorporate showmanship. Don’t drop your pillow or charge your opponent with any part of your body.
“To succeed in the sport, competitors still require good levels of skill, endurance and strength,” says Albolino. “Anyone can participate in pillow fighting. You may be the world’s greatest boxer or MMA fighter, but that doesn’t mean you will be the world’s greatest Pillow Fight Championship fighter.”
It’s never too late to start, and, with a little practice, it could even prove to be a lucrative investment of your time. But if jumping into the ring, Rocky-style, still sounds too intimidating, you can always challenge a friend or family member to a good, old-fashioned pillow fight from the comfort of your own home and declare yourself king or queen of the castle ... or the feather dome.