Tuesday 20 March 2018

The day I spent out and about in my PJs

Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

I love fashionable clothes and stupidly high heels as much as the next twenty-something girl. But there are moments in life when, quite frankly, I couldn't be bothered getting dressed -- and popping out for a pint of milk is just one of them.

And so I can empathise fully with the young Cardiff woman turfed out of Tesco last week for turning up in her pyjamas and slippers.

Over-comfy Elaine Carmody (24) hit headlines after being chucked out of her local branch of the supermarket for breaching its new crackdown on nightwear when she innocently popped in "for a pack of fags".

But now the unassuming jim-jams and their disgruntled wearer have become the subject of a social ruckus that's rippled as far afield as Shangai.

I decide to see exactly what's all the fuss about and I venture out to Liffey Valley for a mid-afternoon spree in my bedtime best. And surprisingly it seems only a handful of fellow shoppers actually seem to give a sod.

In Marks & Spencers, it simply looks as though I've taken a wrong turn out of the dressing room and no-one bats an eyelid. When picking up my weekly provisions in Tesco, other shoppers seem more hell bent on elbowing me out of the way of the special offers than protesting to management over my PJs.

While in Boots, a pleasant make-up artist simply adapts the usual sales-assistant small talk as though it's normal to be layering lippie on a woman still in her night clothes: 'So, off to a pyjama party? We held a pyjama party for customers here recently."

Descending the shopping-centre escalator, one woman even stops to compliment my jammies and find out where she can get such a fetching robe.

Sure, there's the odd sideways stare -- but then women will always scrutinise what other women are wearing, and men will always eye-up members of the opposite sex, whether they're wearing a micro-mini or a shapeless nightshirt.

So why all this pyjama drama? In Ireland, we seem to take a relaxed view of such attire. But it's certainly not the case in the UK or even in China.

Pyjamagate all began when bosses at the St Mellons store slapped up a Dress Code Policy in response to complaints over sloppily dressed shoppers. And not even mum Elaine Carmody's self-acclaimed "lovely pyjamas with bears and penguins on them" could evade the supermarket's eagle-eyed fashion police, who decreed the ban: "To avoid causing offence or embarrassment to others ... no nightwear is permitted."

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 miles away, the sartorial issue is also causing controversy.

Alarmed by the growing number of people who potter about in their jammies during the day, the Chinese government has begged Shangainese not to embarrass the city by saving their sleepwear for, well, sleeping during the 2010 World Expo fair there in May.

Hot on the heels of Tesco's stand on dress decency, the rather literal "No Pyjamas in Public, Be Civilised for the Expo" campaign has brought the opprobrium that's been dubbed All-Day Pyjama Syndrome to international boiling point.

But so far neither the pro-PJ faction nor anti-nightwear activists seem willing to back down.

Battle lines have been drawn in a debate likely to impact on the lives of millions, with the defenders of decorum in one corner and civil libertarians in the other.

It's clear which side my teddy and I are on -- but why are so many people wearing nightwear during the day?

It seems the confusion arose in the early noughties with the ascendancy of loungewear -- comfy but chic duds specifically designed for, er, lounging in. But as the trend trickled down through the market, stylish loungewear somehow segued with lowly sleepwear and, suddenly, there was pandemonium -- one woman's silk camisole and palazzo pants is another woman's fiver-effort from Penneys.

Sure, my combination of Dunnes Stores slippers, H&M tee, Penneys bottoms and La Senza robe isn't about to set the catwalk alight -- but in terms of respectability, is it really any worse than the chavvy trackies sported in public by some?

The bedwear ban has sparked accusations of everything from sexism to classism and even racism, because it's a trend usually favoured by busy, white working-class mothers.

After all, Hugh Hefner has been working a similar look since the '50s with his signature silk smoking jacket and few would complain if Megan Fox wandered the frozen-food aisle in her negligee.

Off the Rails presenter Brendan Courtney sees nothing wrong with the slummy-mummy style.

"People should be able to wear what they like, when they like -- and discriminating against someone for what they are wearing is nothing but old-fashioned snobbery," he says.

"Clothes are an expression of who we are and what tribe we belong to -- and that includes pyjamas."

And if PJs are the tribal symbol of inner-city mums, does that mean we should also ban the unofficial uniform of their uppity D4 counterparts -- UGG boots?

Tesco and the Shangai city government aren't the first ones to single out pyjamas as inappropriate for public places.

In 2007, civil servants in the United Arab Emirates were banned from wearing theirs to work. A GP's practice in Manchester followed suit within weeks after patients started turning up for appointments still in their nighties.

While later that year, primary school principal Joe McGuinness courted the ire of east Belfast pyjama mamas by telling them to get dressed before setting off on the school run. In a letter bemoaning bedgowns at the school gates, he said the trend was setting a bad example for pupils and making staff uncomfortable.

Still, there's always the Michael Jackson mix'n'match approach to mental-ward chic. The late King of Pop hobbled up to his 2005 court case an hour and 10 minutes late wearing a suit jacket, T-shirt and pyjama bottoms, after being summoned from the nearby hospital by an unsympathetic judge.

The good news for members of the pyjama party is that you may never have to face the 'to dress, or not to dress' dilemma here at home.

"The banning of wearing pyjamas in Tesco, Cardiff, was particular to that store," says Lorraine Shiels, Communications Executive of Tesco Ireland. "Currently we have no plans to introduce the restriction to any Tesco stores in Ireland."

In a country where bailing twine has long been considered a perfectly acceptable substitute for a belt, it must be admitted that wearing your PJs in public seems fairly low on the list of fashion faux pas.

So if someone wants to stop the middle-aged Irish men who go on holidays wearing white socks and Jesus sandals, the girls about town who insist on showing their thongs above their jeans or the rugger buggers who think flipped-up shirt collars look cool, I'll be the first in line to sign the petition.

But for now, leave me and my jammies alone.

In this hypersexualised age when nipple tassles are sold as outerwear and spread-eagle celebs regularly reveal that they're not wearing any knickers, young women should be applauded for covering up -- even if it is with PJs!

Irish Independent

Style Newsletter

Stay on top of the latest fashion, beauty and celeb gossip in our Style newsletter.

Editors Choice

Also in this section