Summer is upon us, and with it a whole new crop of seasonal questions about what is appropriate to wear in public. Who among us hasn’t wondered if pajama pants are OK in the winter? (Farhad says yes.) What about clingy, see-through blouses for spring? (Katherine says no.) And now that it’s almost summer, what about nightgowns? Specifically, what about midthigh-length, straw-colored cotton nightgowns at work?
I’m asking for a friend.
Last week, my “friend” was housesitting for her parents. Rummaging through her mom’s closet, she found a cute sundress that she put on and wore to work. The day passed uneventfully—quite comfortably, actually—and she thought no more of the dress, except that she liked the way it rippled just above her knees when she walked. When her parents returned the week after, her mom was upset because she couldn’t locate her nightgown. (“I swear it was in my closet.” “Who on earth would steal a 60-something woman’s ratty nightgown?”) The daughter was genuinely perplexed and helped her mom dig through the clean and dirty laundry, to no avail.
You can probably see where this is going. When my “friend” did her own laundry and returned the clean sundress to her parents’ house, it dawned on everyone what had happened. Namely, the twentysomething Office Pro had mistaken her mother’s sleepwear for a summery daytime dress and worn it to work. Most miraculously of all, no one had seemed to notice. (She checked with co-workers the day after she found out about the gaffe, and they pled total obliviousness. Plus, as of now, she still has her job.)
My friend would like to think she learned an invaluable lesson from Nightgowngate, although she’s not sure precisely what it is. Maybe that the mortifying scenarios that fuel anxiety dreams can prove inconsequential in real life. Or that everyone is too wrapped up in his or her own world to notice slight variations in your appearance or dress. Or that Slate staffers are observant but polite. Or that entitled millennialism will bite you in the butt: You must always ask before rifling through a family member’s belongings. Maybe the lesson is that the modern woman’s nightgown, a garment of increasingly beautiful construction, actually should take its part in the daily pageant of stylish office wear. It’s just like a maxi dress, I told my friend when I heard of her goof!
But my friend’s preferred takeaway is this: How you look really doesn’t matter as much as you think.
Which is the main reason why I am telling you this story. For all the indications that we live in a style-obsessed culture, women should know that it is entirely possible to arrive at work in a nightgown and leave work in a nightgown and not die and have to be resuscitated by shamans somewhere in the middle. (Another reason to share the tale: sublimation—I am transmuting sartorial trauma into narrative in order to overcome it.)
Granted, my friend and I work in an office in which our boss, David Plotz, sometimes appears in fluorescent orange pants. Nightgown chic has nothing on prison-jumpsuit chic. But ladies, learn from our example! Wear whatever makes you feel productive, alluring, and good, because, honestly, no one else is paying any attention.