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Tuesday 6 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Barratts/EMPICS Archive/Press Association Images Inappropriate? These girls did not visit Damastown Community Welfare offices.
Column Interview? Put some trousers on, pyjama girls
We’re very quick to judge, writes columnist Lisa McInerney, but it still stands that the dole office is no place for parading the middle finger to society.

I HAVE TO say that the story about how the Damastown social welfare office in Dublin had to ban the wearing of pyjamas to interviews provoked in me more than its share of smirks.

It’s a mental image worth its weight in lulz. Legions in loungewear, shuffling bleary-eyed with Winehouse beehives towards the horrified civil servants within; cigarettes in one hand, thumb chafing index and middle finger on the other; a scene from Dawn of The Bed-Head. It made me giggle. Why wouldn’t it? You’d think it beyond the realms of probability that a civic office would have to draw up sartorial guidelines for visitors, but there you go. Some people really are that shameless… and dedicated to personal comfort.

I remember the first time I met a Pyjama Girl outside of a sleepover. I popped into the pet shop on the Coal Quay (People’s Republic version) for doggie treats and there she was, bright pink and Ugg-shod, chattering away with the ease one can only enjoy when one has claimed the city as an extension of one’s bedroom. At first I thought she was ill, perhaps that she’d snuck out of a hospital ward for a cheeky fag and a catch-up, but no, she’d traipsed into town on a similar errand to myself, except she hadn’t wasted precious energy squeezing herself into a pair of skinnies and curiously unflattering ballet pumps.

I was chagrined at first… the effrontery! But then I thought, well, it’s only effrontery because I deigned it so. I mean, I didn’t ask her why she was wearing her PJs to the petshop. I just assumed it was because she was socially impertinent. She might very well have been on the way to a sleepover; I wasn’t bold enough to ask.

There are social norms and social gaffes, of course, decided by a collective stance on common decency. All of this outside law and legislation, naturally; we might decide it’s not acceptable to write a company memo in Klingon, or hang furry dice from your ears, but it’s not illegal. The horror directed at those who wear pyjamas in public comes under the same vague tenet; pyjamas as daywear is not illegal, but not socially acceptable either.

It’s not the actual wearing of the pyjamas… it’s how they’re worn

And it’s not the actual wearing of the pyjamas, either. It’s how they’re worn. If the intent is to make them high fashion, or to stake a challenge to revealing wardrobe staples approved by the patriarchy, then that’d be grand. Lady Gaga could wear Statement Loungewear and Vogue would applaud her ecstatically. But if it’s that the pyjama-clad simply don’t care what the rest of society thinks about their attire and grooming habits, why, then it’s an attitude problem. Women refusing to put pants on… just because? Lord help us.

There’s no denying there’s a little social snobbery to this Pyjama Scorn. There are quite a few ladies in SUVs who frequently do the school run in their PJs and slippers, but they don’t get out of the car and start wandering in gangs down the high street, so that’s ok. Instinctively, I’ll judge a woman who appears outdoors in her sleepwear or slippers, because I’m as quick with the State-of-Yer-Wan quips than the next pseudo-toff. When a pal once shrugged that she’d gone– and had been admitted – to the local (rural) nightclub in her slippers, I worried if it would compromise my social standing if I didn’t immediately unfriend her on Facebook. Luckily, I wasn’t ostracised by association and the town didn’t blow away in a Biblical plague.

There are pyjama enthusiasts who maintain that their chosen leisurewear is freshly washed and ironed, so why distinguish between pastel flannel and bobbly leggings or cheap jogging bottoms? It’s a good question when you think about it. I’d never leave the house in my plaid Penney’s PJs, but I could be persuaded to go to the supermarket in my grey Penney’s trackie bottoms. The only difference between the two is a colour pattern. And is there any real issue of decency with women wearing PJs outdoors, when there are so many builders’ bums and saggy bulges in common-or-garden male fashion?

We’re so very quick to judge people. Most of the time, judging people on their physical appearance does no one any favours; it drives me up the wall when people dismiss as degenerates anyone involved in the Occupy protests who has dreadlocks, or when we judge our TDs on their haircuts instead of their political performance.

We judge by appearances because that’s how we process the world and divide our time and attention

But that’s human nature. That’s how we process the world around us and divide up our time and attention. Burly man wearing patched leather jacket and goatee? Probably a biker. Wildly smiling youth in a high-vis vest with a clipboard? He’s a chugger; avoid. Woman wearing teddy-bear pants tucked into wool-lined boots? More than likely not on her way to work.

Because this is the problem with the Damastown story. The Pyjama Girls in question are not dropping their kids to school, or nipping to the pet shop for doggie treats. They are attending a social welfare appointment, and their reluctance to dress conventionally doesn’t bode well for their willingness to pull together with their countrymen. Whether or not there are jobs to be had, or whether the social welfare interview in question is likely to include anything more probing than “Have you applied for anything recently?” is hardly worth asking. In post-Tiger Ireland, the collective anxiety is palpable. We’re all on edge, worried about personal and national coffers, wondering if anyone’s yet found a path out of the
fog. We’re turning on each other far too quickly, and that hostility is stirred on the shakiest of grounds.

There is little room for debate with Pyjama Girls on why they’re rejecting traditional outfits. The fact is that the dole office is no place for parading the middle finger to society.

I’m all for personal freedom. I’m all for women wearing what they like. I couldn’t care less if they want to wear wellies to the office or a ballgown on the bus. But for attending social welfare interviews, for joining the queue with those of us sapped by financial circumstance, there’s an undeniable obligation to show solidarity and respect. I’m with the staff of the Damastown office. Pyjama Girls attending for interview should just put some damn pants on.

Read: Irish social welfare office ban on pyjamas for interviews noted in London Times editorial>

Read previous columns by Lisa McInerney>

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