According to Gero, the daytime pajama craze was inevitable. The history of fashion is marked by cases in which intimate, private clothes break out into public. Tea gowns, for example, were once meant for women to wear at home, but in the 20th century they became something you could wear outside. Daytime PJs also fit in with another longtime fashion trend—the move toward simplicity. “In the 19th century a lady would change her clothes four or five times a day,” Gero says. “You got up in the morning and you wore a morning dress. Then you’d put on an afternoon dress, then your dinner dress, and if you were going out you’d put on an evening dress, and then when you got home you’d put on your gown. We don’t do that anymore—and with pajamas, maybe we’re taking that to the extreme.”
Gero has an interest in pajamas: In addition to making her own line of sleepwear, she wrote her thesis on jumpsuits. (She recently adapted her thesis for the magazine Nerd Nite.) Still, she largely agrees with the notion that it’s slovenly to wear pajamas out of the house. “The point of getting dressed in the morning—the purpose of fashion—is to attract a mate, display your wealth, and to express yourself,” she says. If you don’t do that, you’re telling the world you can’t be bothered to conform to the most minimal strictures of society. That’s why people get so upset about daytime pajamas: They want you to care.
When I floated the pajamas idea to my Slate colleagues, several of them made a related point: No one looks good in pajamas. Despite their proximity to the bed, pajamas’ soft formlessness does little to enhance most people’s bodies. When you wear PJs outside, you’re telling the world that all you’d like to do is cuddle.
But these criticisms tell us more about the critics than about the apparel. There are some people who enjoy choosing and putting on clothes, but I suspect there are many, many more who find fashion daunting, expensive, and time-consuming. If my pajamas tell the world that I don’t care about fashion, that’s exactly the message I’m intending to convey: I don’t care, or at least I don’t care enough to undermine my own comfort.
Insofar as they help us escape the constantly shifting mores of modern fashion, pajamas function as a great leveler—a way to bridge the gap between rich and poor, old and young, thin and fat. Perhaps nobody looks awesome in pajamas, but nobody looks terrible, either: You just look like you’re looking out for yourself.
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea—you’ll never catch me wearing pajamas in public. But that’s only because I don’t have the guts to flout such a powerful convention. If I see you in your jammies, though, I’ll be sure to give you a firm handshake and a pat on the back. And if you want, I’ll even offer to tuck you in.