NOTE: In light of several distressed comments, it seems that some clarification is needed. Within the context of this post, I mention depression and chronic illness as possible reasons for wearing pajamas in public. I did so specifically to point out that there may be underlying reasons invisible to the observer, and that blanket judgment is unwise. Always unwise. I have written previously on this topic, but perhaps wasn’t clear enough here. I had no intention of attacking or reprimanding anyone suffering in any way. The purpose of this post was to generate discussion around theoretical ideas of what current dressing choices might become in the future, not to scold those living in the present. As I have said numerous times, what we wear may give some information to observers, but it is never the whole story. Please see the comments on this post for additional discussion and input from those battling chronic depression and pain.
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As stylists and style experts go, I consider myself to be pretty open-minded. I don’t parrot rigid figure-flattery rules, I don’t insist that every woman dress to look as tall and thin as possible, and I don’t reprimand anyone who dresses outside the narrowly-defined version of “stylish” that populates fashion mags. It’s a big, diverse world, and there’s room for all of us in it.
BUT I do believe in dressing as a social act, and as such believe that we should dress not solely for ourselves but for our circumstances and environments. Unless you put on clothing and stay inside your house without interacting with any other humans, how you dress will impact other people. I don’t think we need to dress to please those around us, but I do think we need to dress appropriately for our activities and peers. That will mean different things to different people, of course, but here are a few extreme examples:
- Don’t wear a bikini to the office. It isn’t appropriate to your task, and is likely to make those around you uncomfortable and distracted.
- Don’t wear overalls to a funeral. It’s a solemn, emotional affair and deserves attire that will reflect respect.
- Don’t wear a suit to go hiking. You’ll be uncomfortable, ill-equipped to complete your task, and likely to ruin what you’re wearing.
Those examples are all obvious, and I doubt most people would even consider such stylistic choices. But there are a few more common dressing choices that I’ve observed over the years, and I’ve been interested to see them discussed with tremendous interest, emotion, and anger across blogs and magazines over the years. I think of them as “sartorial slippery slopes.”
Pajamas and slippers as street wear: In my neighborhood, I regularly see people wearing printed pajamas and novelty slippers to walk around, do errands, etc. Many of us have seen PJ pants make appearances at the grocery store, on college campuses, and elsewhere and their appropriateness is the subject of hot debate. The argument that I see most often defending PJs as street clothing is that people who are ill or depressed or both often can’t do much more than head to Walgreens in their bedroom clothes, then head home. In all honesty, I believe that hauling on a pair of jeans, yoga pants, or clean sweats instead of kitty-printed pink PJ pants and bunny slippers is something that the majority of folks can manage. But naturally, there are significant exceptions. Nevertheless, I see no real need to transform bedroom-specific garments into acceptable street wear for all. There are about a million different garments that feel just as comfortable as pajamas and cost about the same amount of money, but don’t evoke sleeping and bedroom activities. When asked, “Why shouldn’t I be able to wear my PJs in public?” my question in response is, “Why is it important to do so?”
Exposed bra straps: Occasionally my straps peek out of a tank top during the dog days of summer, and I couldn’t give a hoot. Fancy affairs are different and I’ll change out my lingerie for those, but if I’m just headed to the movies or out for a bike ride, I’m not fussed about showing straps. However the discussions surrounding exposed bra straps trouble me. Most of what I’ve read in fashion mags tells me that if my bra straps are going to show, they need to be colorful, interesting, and sexy. And while that could merely be interpreted to mean, “If they’re gonna show, at least make it look intentional” it could also be interpreted to mean, “If they’re gonna show, why not take the opportunity to make yourself an alluring sexual object?” That doesn’t sit well with me. Any more than purposely showing the back side of a thong or top two inches of a pair of boxers does. In my opinion, underwear should remain under other clothing.
Extreme casual attire at traditionally dressy affairs: I’ve been to the opera a handful of times, and recently attended my first Broadway show. Each time I’ve shown up at these traditionally fancy affairs in my relatively fancy garb, I’ve seen men in cargo shorts and women in flip flops. And while I’ve said before that I don’t consider the rapid casualization of our dressing society to be a sign of the pending apocalypse, I do consider it to be a shame. While I see the benefits of relaxing dress codes on some fronts, I fail to see why they must be relaxed on all fronts. Leaving a few places and occasions off-limits for jeans-and-tees-level attire helps us to remember that life has pockets of formality, some events deserve our best duds, and that we may feel more connected to an experience if we dress in a way that makes us feel more attentive and attuned.
I consider all three of these dressing choices to be potential “sartorial slippery slopes.” They may seem harmless enough on their own, but they represent trends that might lead to even more unusual choice patterns. Taken to theoretical extremes:
Pajamas are meant to be worn while sleeping, or at the very least, within the confines of one’s own house and bedroom. Worn as street wear, they set a precedent for wearing traditionally contextual clothing out of context, breaking social agreements about appropriateness. Eventually, we COULD be wearing bikinis to the office if we condone the “everything, everywhere” mentality that PJs in the wild represents.
Exposing a bra strap may seem harmless enough, and on its own I suppose it is. But wearing a dark or colorful bra beneath a sheer top has become fairly widely accepted, and I’ve seen countless fashion magazines show actual bras worn with blazers and skirts as sanctioned shirt-substitutes. Slip dresses were all the rage in the 90s and bustier-style tops have been worn for ages, but the recent spate of actual underwear as streetwear that I’ve seen in celeb photos and glossy mags makes me wonder if the current choices may lead us to abandoning clothing altogether. (Or, at least, lead to women abandoning clothing altogether.) Another case of specific-use clothing – lingerie – being dragged out of context.
And casual-as-formal may be the most compelling example since it has been encroaching on more and more locations and occasions. It seems that personal comfort has become the most important consideration in all circumstances, regardless of social factors, tradition, and decorum. If we’re wearing flip flops to the opera today, will we be wearing sweatsuits to our own weddings in 50 years?
Of course I’m sensationalizing and taking my examples to wild extremes, but I’m doing so to make a point and generate discussion. Slippery slopes exist everywhere, even in fashion, and I’m curious to hear if you think any of these three might lead to even more extreme stylistic circumstances. If not these, do you see other sartorial slippery slopes around you? Where might they lead?
REMINDER: Please be respectful and measured in your comments. I realize that this is a hot-button topic, but it CAN be discussed without devolving into harsh statements of judgment. You are absolutely entitled to your opinions and emotions, and we’d all love to hear them, but be as tolerant and kind as possible when expressing them.