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Front Porch: When did it become OK to wear pajamas in public?

When did it become OK to wear pajamas in public?

Not that this is a new phenomenon or anything, but I was taken aback recently while waiting for a flight at the airport in Portland when a woman, probably in her 20s, walked by me in her jammies. She had a big hoodie covering her upper half and flower-decorated pajama bottoms beneath.

I know some hairstyles are deliberately messy looking, but she had a true case of bed-head. And to finish the ensemble, she carried an actual bed pillow. At 11 a.m.

Please believe me when I say this, but I do not aspire to be the fashion police, nor would I ever be mistaken for the same. I quite like the fact that acceptable attire is more casual than it used to be. I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress. I don’t tsk-tsk at most fashion trends, recognizing that they come and go, and who doesn’t like to try out new looks from time to time?

Nor do I want to go back to the formal days. When I was in high school and my mother traveled for her work, my father and I would take her to the airport and pick her up. He would wear a suit and tie and I would wear a dress, pantyhose and my going-to-church shoes. In Miami. In the stinking hot days of August.

And when I first worked for this newspaper as a staff reporter in the late 1960s, there was an understood dress code – men in suits, women in modest dresses or skirts (with the hem not higher than mid-knee). I remember once struggling over huge clods of overturned earth in a wheat field wearing heels and hose as I made my way with a photographer to a plane wreck. Later, I occasionally wore nice pantsuits to work. The world didn’t end, and I still looked professional in my attire.

But still, pajamas?

Thinking I have surely doddered off into that unattractive place where all I can do is find fault, I went to the Internet to check out pajama wearing in public. There’s a whole cottage industry there – wearing pjs in public in general, in school, all day and even at the airport. Happily, I’m not alone in my disapproval, though not everyone agrees.

There seems to be a clear distinction between the mom in jammies who is hurrying to off-load her child from the car at school and had to choose between getting Susie ready or herself, and the shuffling-around-in-sleepwear-all-day slugabeds. And of course, those who go from mattress to grocery store in what seems to be one continuous motion. A lot of people have a lot to say on the subject.

Without getting too deep or serious here, without assigning this canary-in-the-coal-mine status signaling the fall of Western civilization, and without trying to be too much of a curmudgeon, I offer this: It’s a pendulum. As with so many other things, when we move away from one standard, we tend to march off to the farthest extreme – eventually to settle, if not in the middle, at least somewhere between the two poles. I’m hoping that’s what’s up with pjs at the airport and that we’re about to start the swing back to something less, well, sloppy and infantile.

I’d like to comment as well on the plethora of feet clad only in flip-flops, even when it’s cold out and even when some of those visible toenails are thick and yellow – but I think I’ll save that for another time.

However, in sticking with the airport theme, note to the young man sitting in the row behind me on my flight who was talking to a seatmate he had just met: Your voice carried over the seat and I now know more than I care to about the out-of-wedlock birth of your first child, the birth of your second child, your imperiled marriage, your career choice and the fact that you are not yet old enough to have the complimentary glass of wine the cabin attendant was handing out. But then again, people seem quite comfortable opening up about all sorts of intimacies to perfect strangers when they travel, so maybe you’re good with your resume going out to a wider audience than you intended.

The good news – at least this young man had on big-boy clothes as he revealed all. No jammies.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at

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