The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the switch to home working by large swathes of the employed population had a distinct knock-on effect on clothing. Suits and smart jackets were out—some of us are fighting a rearguard action to revive them—and suddenly everyone cast aside any remaining shame and championed their loungewear.
The pressure has been building for some time. It’s more than 10 years since a branch of Tesco in Cardiff had to ban its customers from shopping in their pyjamas, and the last decade has seen the explosion in popularity of the onesie, initially a garment for infants which was adopted for reasons of comfort, if not style, by adults.
In general, the line between indoor clothes and outdoor has been eroded: where once a set of pyjamas was quite obviously sleepwear, now a sloppy kind of sweatshirt and matching trousers can easily be worn to sleep or to venture out for the day’s shopping. It is a depressing, slouchy race for the lowest common denominator: but it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a fine tradition of impeccably elegant loungewear which, while it remains within the home, is an alternative to dressing in day clothes and can still be magnificently comfortable and luxurious. I recently visited the Noël Coward exhibition at London’s Guildhall, and the Master, as he was known, was, well, a master of sophisticated lazing-around. Anyone who has seen a Coward play will have an instinct for the sort of thing I mean. Silk pyjamas, monogrammed slippers, neatly tied dressing gowns. Add a moustache and a dry martini, and you hardly need a script.
This kind of elegance need not be a thing of the past. Silk pyjamas are a great luxury but one in which it really is worth indulging: Turnbull and Asser have beautiful examples, as do online suppliers Bonsoir of London, while ladies are much more widely catered for in any lingerie department. We live in a cold climate, however, and silk may be deliciously tactile but it is not always warm: for winter, a well-kept set of cotton or brushed cotton pyjamas can be just as stylish.
Slippers seem to have image problems these days. The phrase “pipe and slippers” has become embedded in the language as a symbol of old age and fuddy-duddiness, but really the feet do need to be protected. Perhaps you prefer leather mules or moccasins to tell yourself they’re not slippers; but when you see the velvet slippers at, for example, Crockett and Jones, you will surely have your prejudices set aside.
The pièce de résistance is the dressing gown, the armour which allows you, though you may still be in your pyjamas, to face the world and even visitors. The usual suspects, like Turnbull and Asser or House of Bruar, will supply you with something smart and practical, but, in truth, there are other shops, and then there is New and Lingwood on Jermyn Street. Here, the range of dressing gowns is heavenly, from plain silk to quilted, all in the most vivid and dazzling patterns. Unleash your inner dandy and empty your wallet. You’re worth it.
My lesson here is that it doesn’t have to be an old university sweatshirt and some leggings you wear to do household tasks. We are all spending more time at home now, so look after your appearance and your comfort, with outfits that can legitimately take you from bed to desk to cocktails as the sun goes down. You can receive guests in luxury and splendour, without feeling like an invalid or an indigent.
Of course this doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re wearing these garments several days a week, they’re as important as any others you wear. Make sure you have a few sets, keep them clean and fresh, and make an effort. We will not all go full Noël and add a cravat or a pocket square to our pyjamas, but the Master knew what he was doing. There’s no shame in learning from the greats. Think of him next time you click to join a Zoom meeting.