I've said it before and I'll say it again. The night a group of students flared up in protest at Bates College back in the late '90s, I showed up at the scene in sweat pants. Not pajamas. Sweat pants. Got it?
I'm just trying to live my life.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the Pajama Incident of Nineteen-Ninety-Whatever-it was. I've been thinking about it because it's funny how times have changed. Back then, the idea that someone may have showed up at a major event wearing pj's was fodder for serious discussion.
REPORTER SPOTTED IN NIGHTWEAR! went the headline in my sweaty dreams when the nightmares really got bad.
I had to defend myself against these accusations and the clothing article in question was sent off to a lab. The findings were murky, but I've always stood by my claim that those were sweat pants, worn chiefly for the purpose of working out.
The little feet are for gaining maximum grip when squat-thrusting.
But the point I'm trying to make is that in nineteen-ninety-whatever-it-was, the notion of wearing sleepwear in public was actually something of note. Ten years later? Not so much. Today, pajamas are everyday fashion. You can wear them on trips to Walmart. You can wear them to the bank, the pizza joint or the mall.
But especially to Walmart.
Head there some late night and you will find that the aisles are filled with people who look like they belong at a slumber party. They wander about in pj's and slippers like sleepwalkers who took wrong turns off the kitchen. Nobody reacts with disbelief. Nobody goes racing for a manager to put an end to the obscenity. Somewhere along the way, it became commonplace to go shopping in a onesie.
I tell you, we are just one bold act from heading to Walmart in our bathrobes. It will be like shopping for TV dinners and Elmer's glue at the Playboy mansion, only without the glitter, style and beauty.
But other than that, exactly like shopping at the Playboy mansion.
I'm not much bothered by it, personally. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy. But over the past year in particular, I've heard about the pajama party that is our world from a variety of people. They find it crass and lazy. They see it as discourteous and a BAD EXAMPLE FOR THE CHILDREN. If grown men and women are allowed — nay, encouraged — to shop in their jammies, where next will we find people who don't find it necessary to put on clothes to go out in public?
Will the group next to us at a fine restaurant be dining in flannel button-ups? Will the couple in front of us at the theater kick back in skimpy silks? Will the enthusiastic fan at the high school football game be wrapped in a Snuggie and nothing else?
But of course, I exaggerate. Nobody but a fool would go to a sports event in a Snuggie. (See Snuggie Incident of Two-Thousand-Something.)
Every generation goes through a few of these adjustment periods. There was a time when it would have been completely unacceptable to go out into the world in sweat pants and a baseball hat. There was a day when society at large reacted with disapproval to the sight of a young lady with Daisy Duke shorts and a shirt rolled to the midriff.
Now, that look is as easy to find at any mall as it is on the Internet.
There doesn't seem to be any double standard, either. A trim young thing in pink pj bottoms with "Cutie Pie" written along the back of them will make you walk into a Frito display, but that doesn't mean you like it. The present uneasiness with the pajama trend doesn't seem to be a matter of sexuality but of sloth. The folks who wander thusly clad through the stores are perceived as the same people who will park unabashedly in a handicapped spot; or find a way to use food stamps to buy liquor and smokes.
Whether it's true or not is best left to those with training in matters of sociology, like the scholars at peopleofwalmart.com.
Just don't you go believing that it is only the militant prudes complaining about this new sleepy fashion. I hear it from men who normally encourage skimpy attire for women. I hear it from modern-day hippies who generally like the idea of pushing boundaries.
The opinion seems to be: "The human body is not obscene. Only, sometimes it is, so for the love of God, put some clothes on!"
And they mean it. Strangers have followed me home to talk about their disgust with pajamas in public. Nice old ladies have grabbed fistfuls of my shirt to make sure I'm listening. Others hunt me down on Facebook to express themselves.
Which is odd because Facebook is normally such a happy place.
"Well, I just got back from Walmart," declared a nice young lady who is not easily rattled. "You should have seen the pajama bottoms this man had on. They were so loud they hurt my eyes! Flannel, red with lots of bright, neon-colored designs. Don't ask me what the designs were; I couldn't stand to look at them that long."
But what are you going to do? Empower department store greeters with the power to sniff out pajamas and stop them at the door? I'm afraid it's not that easy, not at a time when comfort is considered of much greater importance than style and propriety. What ARE pajamas, anyway? Do sweat pants in crazy colors fit the definition? Do hospital scrubs? What about those spandex horrors you wear while tooling around on your bicycle?
And that brings us full circle. I guess I can go ahead and confess that, back in nineteen-whatever-it-was, I knew those thin, cottony things I wore while racing to the Bates College uprising fit the classical definition of pajamas. I went out in them, anyway. Which only means that I may be responsible for yet another fashion trend (I also invented hat hair and the Jheri curl.)
If I'd had the foresight to stamp "Cutie Pie" on the backside, I really would have been ahead of the curve.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Share your pj horrors with him at email@example.com.