Pajamas are being pulled into the online fashion aisles by their drawstrings. With the COVID-19 virus snagging the Canadian social fabric, the drill of dressing up to go to the office is taking a dressing down.
Only a handful of white-collar employees are striding into offices wearing power suits. With most people working online and from home, the stress is on comfort, and comfort means pajamas. Formals are out; “at-home-lounge-around-sleep” wear is in.
Stuck at home, employees are attending Zoom calls dressed in “informals” — especially from the waist down. They are wearing anything from boxers to sweatpants to pajamas or any odd leg clothing that does not involve cumbersome buttons, belts, or zips. It can be worn around the house anytime, facilitating a quick dash from the baby’s room to the conference table. No one witnesses the quick sprint for cover, nor is there any embarrassing exposure of the butt.
The internet abounds in images showing women with their full make-up on and impeccable hair, all ready for a video conference call. Yet one detail stands out: their pajamas are in place. The same goes for men. With formals from the waist up and pajamas from the waist down, they may have just finished mowing the lawn, but it does not matter. On the screen they are dressed up and attentive.
Anil Agrawal, business adviser and coach from Ottawa, is often invited to Zoom meetings. He prefers to attend them while still wearing his pajamas, and it is till way past the lunch hour when he gets around to changing from them. He is particular about fixing appointments before visiting others in his social bubble, “I make it a point to do this to save them the embarrassment of being caught in their pajamas,” Agrawal told NCM.
There was a time when PJs were in the category of private apparel. But online working has ripped out the lines between formal and informal wear. Comfort and ease have been stitched in. It is still bravado to wear a two-piece pajama outfit in public, but the rules are changing. Walmart is now stocking pajamas in practically all of its 408 stores in Canada, as they are trendy amongst the local buyers. You name it, they have it: floral, checkered, polka-dot print colorful pajamas with an elastic waistband.
Pajamas are lightweight, gender-neutral and classless home clothes. They are a natural fit, unlike the skinny jeans, which require uncomfortable body contortions to get in and out of. When the Zoom reminders summon, pajamas are already in place to take the call.
Owen Sound: the PJ capital of Canada
An enthusiastic promoter of the pajamas is Mayor Ian Boddy of Owen Sound, Ontario, who recently announced that people could claim a free pair of pajama bottoms as part of the city’s Work from Home Capital of Canada recruitment and marketing campaign. According to The Owen Sound Sun Times, all 200 pairs were snatched up within a week. The city was thus trying to capitalize on the increasing number of Canadians working from home and encourage them to relocate to Owen Sound.
The media abound in advice on work-from-home dress code, too. “The Pajamas Suit lets you pretend you’re dressing up for a Zoom meeting,” wrote The Verge in December 2020. It affords “comfort without looking like you haven’t gone outside for a week.”
NBC’s TODAY show consulted Rheeda Walker, professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “We are all going through a stressful time in history,” she said. “If folks are not up to dressing for the cyber world, that is completely understandable. We can cut ourselves some slack if, mentally, we’re just not up for the pomp and circumstance.”
A new fashion trend?
Oprah Magazine’s McKenzie Jean-Philippe and Monica Chon preface their guide to “the best pajamas to wear for all day comfort” with an anecdote about Oprah Winfrey’s “beloved list of Favorite Things,” which she started with a pair of flannel pajamas. “She adored them so much that she gifted them to everyone on her team … Lady O understood that there’s nothing better than putting on cozy (and cute!) pj’s at the end of a long day.”
The pajama trend was actually predicted a few years before the pandemic. “If you like ‘athleisure,’ the newest casual clothing trend is wearing pajamas all day,” wrote Marc Bain, fashion reporter at Quartz, in 2017. He quoted industry analyst Marshal Cohen, who pegged pajamas becoming a normal part of weekend wardrobes as his top expectations for the year ahead.
But not many approve of the pajama presence behind the desk, on the street or anywhere else — at least that was the case before COVID-19. The Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan wrote in 2016: “The fashion industry really wants you to wear pajamas on the street. Don’t do it!” Fashion houses like Gucci, Lanvin, and Dolce & Gabbana were holding pajama parties promoting fancy, silk pajamas for non-sleep use at the time.
The Indian word “pyjamas” was adopted by the English language from the Urdu word “pyjāmās” to mean nightwear. “A lot of words come down to the time of the British Raj and their presence in India up until the 20th century, to 1947,” said Mary O’Neill, editor-in-chief of Collins English Dictionaries.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the word “pajamas,” also spelled “pyjamas,” denotes “loose, lightweight trousers first worn in the East.” The pyjamas, introduced in Britain in the 17th century, were originally known as “mogul’s breeches,” but they became popular as sleepwear for men around 1870. However, pyjamas remained a luxury until the beginning of the 20th century.
Ranjan Banerjee, former foreign service officer of the Government of Canada, says that pyjamas as clothing were introduced to India probably at least 500 years ago from the Ottoman Empire. The popularization of pajamas, till then mostly hand-stitched, came with the commercialization of the German sewing machine Pfaff, he told NCM.
Banerjee, who immigrated to Canada from India in 1965, also noted the influence of the 1930s Hollywood movie It Happened One Night, which had a scene with Clarke Gable in pajamas and his partner, Claudette Colbert, clad in his other pair. It set a new trend among western women to wear pajamas.
Despite centuries of existence, pajamas have never faded into anonymity. The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that pajamas are entrenched in our homes, and they keep on butting in!
Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills” early this year. She and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.