It’s 5 pm on a Sunday, and I’m already wearing my pajama pants. This isn’t all that unusual. If I’ve already worked out and made a public appearance, then there’s a chance Sunday evening finds me in leisurewear. It’s the specific type of pants that I’m wearing that’s slightly amiss. Not yoga/workout pants. Not Dignity Pants. But pajama pants.
As someone who works at home, I have a very strict hierarchy of loungewear. I think when you have so little outside structure in your life, it’s important that you have your own rules. Otherwise, who knows what would happen? All of the sudden you’re holding up a liquor store in your sweatpants, certain to be apprehended, when you could have made a getaway in Dignity Pants (to be defined later).
Workout pants are for working out only. If I am lounging in workout clothes, it is because I have either just worked out or am about to work out. No exceptions.
Pajama bottoms are obviously for sleeping, but it gets tricky, because I often wake up and work without getting dressed. Pajama bottoms most often have drawstrings and are flannel or some other soft fabric. Often, they have a whimsical pattern to denote their sleepytime usage, such as sheep, coffee cups or leopard print. I sometimes wear these most of the day but it’s either because I never dressed or decided just to get ready for bed early if there’s only a few-hour gap between working out and bed.
While you can — and should — wear workout clothes in public, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get to and from your gym or fitness classes, you should never, ever wear pajama pants in public. Unless it’s an emergency or you’re Hugh Hefner.
So this brings me to a third, more nebulous category of loungewear. Earlier this year, before the magazine I worked for folded — or, at least pretended to fold — I wrote something about Sleepy Jones pajamas, designed for the fashionable person who works from home. The press materials tried to evoke Picasso, not the weirdo in stained sweatpants in his basement. And so a social media discussion began among my friends about something one friend has termed Dignity Pants. They’re not quite big-boy or big-girl pants, but you’d feel comfortable wearing them in public. They are named so, because they add a certain sense of dignity to your otherwise slovenly appearance. You can put them on and feel respect for yourself without even brushing your hair.
But why? And how? Another recent Facebook conversation led to a more specific definition of these Dignity Pants. The guidelines are as follows: 1) To remain loungewear, dignity pants must have no zippers. Ties are acceptable, though drawstrings may edge them into the dangerous sweatpants category, in which case, they are not truly worthy of the Dignity Pants moniker. 2) Dignity pants must appear to be some sort of socially acceptable pants. By nature, they are innocuous. No logos, stripes or sporty things — and certainly no letters on the butt, even if they spell out the word DIGNITY itself. They can have pockets. 3) While dignity pants can be possibly used for workouts and sleeping, pajama pants cannot be Dignity Pants. In some instances, however, workout pants can be Dignity Pants if they adhere to the guidelines outlined in 2.
I have two pairs of Dignity Pants. They were, at one time, public pants. Both are from Express and more than 15 years old. They are black and have elastic waistbands. I used to wear them as part of regular outfits. For quite a long time, they appeared in my regular wardrobe rotation, then under skirts and dresses, and finally they were retired to loungewear after years of faithful service. The acrylic blend pair has had a tiny bleach stain for a long time, while the jersey pants pay for my years of being short with having bits of stepped-on hem slowly shred and disintegrate at the bottoms.
Yet I would feel comfortable emerging from my home in these pants, the way I would not while wearing pajamas or sweatpants. (Sweatpants are their own animal and can fall into workout wear, loungewear or sleepwear, depending on how you choose to use them, but alas, they can never become Dignity Pants.) Was it that they were once of the legitimate wardrobe world? Is it their plain texture and fit? Regardless, these are the pants I don to be somewhat respectable. They meet at the intersection of comfort and fashion.
And that brings me to today’s early donning of pajamas. Ordinarily, I would have put on a pair of my beloved Dignity Pants, but my recent hospital stay and full-time life of leisure has put a dent in my loungewear. I’m pulling in old players off the bench, like my Cleveland Indians sweatpants with holes in them. (I actually have retired loungewear that I can’t bring myself to throw away, like my beloved 1989 Depeche Mode Violator tour T-shirt that I bought at Quonset Hut in Akron in 1992.)
And so I find myself in need to new leisure apparel. Tomorrow, when I am getting my blood drawn to see if I need a transfusion, my boyfriend is going to Uniqlo with my shopping list of possibilities to invigorate my tattered loungewear. (While I expect my blood count results to be good, my wardrobe is sadly depleted.) On his list is a sweat set and something called “lounge bottoms,” a type of jersey pajama bottom.
I also splurged and ordered new sweatpants, my first in 10 years. And I may have even found myself some new Dignity Pants — something Jones New York calls an easy pant.
The new bar I’ve set for my Dignity Pants is: Would I be OK with running into Maggie Gyllenhaal in these pants? It’s not totally out of the question. She lives in Brooklyn; I ran into her at brunch once, when I was fully dressed. As our eyes met, she gave me a serene smile and a look that conveyed, “In a second, you will realize I am famous, but please don’t freak out. We’re just trying to brunch.” That’s why she’s a good actor. She did all that in a second, before my mouth had time to fall open.
The reason that she’s my new gauge is because I was talking to another friend who works at home, someone who understands the need for dignity pants. She recounted being at her local coffee shop, unshowered and wearing some semblance clothing she’d deemed suitable for running across the street. When she grumpily excused herself to get to the sugar, Gyllenhaal turned, apologized and smiled.
Now I’m not saying I’m dressing up for Maggie Gyllenhaal. I’m just saying that you never know when you might run out for a quick errand and you run into a star who looks effortlessly beautiful-yet-approachable, while you just look unapproachable and slightly feral. Things like that might make you feel especially schlubby in comparison. I might be hobnobbing with starlets and I can’t put on decent pants? Would I wear a tattered bathrobe to the Oscars? Crocs to the opera? (I saw Mario Batali do this and it’s not cool, even at a matinee.)
Tomorrow I don real pants, those with zippers, and venture bravely forth. When I return to my lair, I will be closer to having my leisurewear stores replenished, and I can lounge with dignity.