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Dressing down

Rachel Johnson rarely gets out of her comfort zone: loungewear

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

I have long cherished an — admittedly rather bizarre — fantasy. It centres on the world’s best-dressed women: Anna Wintour, Daphne Guinness, Joan Juliet Buck, Tamara Mellon, the type celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic for their spike-heeled, cinched-in élan, camera-ready women who never have a hair out of place. Well, in my fantasy, when these women get home, they take off their couture, kick off their heels and secretly get slouchy in the sort of clothes I never take off, the sort of womenswear that those who work from home live in: grey T-shirts, tracksuits, yoga pants.

I call it slobwear, but my husband (who is wearily used to the sight of me in these unsightly adult babygros) calls any item of lower-body clothing that can go seamlessly from bed to breakfast table to school gate ‘Andy Pandies’ in honour of the eponymous storybook hero’s all-in-one blue-and-white puffy ensemble complete with mob cap — an outfit that I linger over enviously on the page for its obvious snugness, cheery Dutch appearance and utility.

The manufacturers have cottoned on to the fact that loads more of us are working from home and thus have no need of tailoring or office suits or what Americans call ‘careerwear’. So a new category has been added to the retail repertoire, as designers race to produce yet more comfy options for us low-maintenance homeworkers: ‘loungewear’.

The loungewear pioneers, in my book, are the Welsh clothing and mail-order company Toast, whose models are always snuggling in cashmere bedsocks and antique linen smocks by log fires, clutching hand-thrown mugs of hot chocolate, and looking moodily into the middle distance. But now Hush does rose-printed pyjamas I can’t imagine ever wanting to take off, and T-shirt trousers with a silky tie-waist, and much else. American Apparel has T-shirting and nu-rave loungewear (see the photo in which I am clad in American Apparel raglan top and my daughter’s Abercrombie & Fitch tracksuit bottoms). Marks & Spencer’s cashmere tracksuit is famed among fashionistas up and down the land, who will not travel business class across the Atlantic to New York on Eos in anything else (I’m afraid that the Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, although of a flattering cut, are simply too Wag).

Perhaps this is a recessionary, nesting trend that the Chancellor should be taking notice of. It’s a bit like hemlines in a bear market, after all. What seems to be happening is that we’re not getting mad, we’re getting comfy. It stands to reason that what we all want to buy is not pricey designer fashion, but cheapish clothes to kick back in, especially if we work from home. My friend, the writer Imogen Edwards-Jones, had to go into central London from her home office in W10, from which bestsellers emanate with annual regularity, the other day. ‘It’s all clippety-clippety-clop, the West End!’ she commented in wonder on her return. ‘Everyone’s in shoes.’

But in more laid-back neighbourhoods, loungewear really is taking over. Men amble about in tracksuits and jeans and Converse, women in yogawear — if they’re dressing up, that is.

I was in Gail’s on the Portobello Road the other day, around noon, and this girl blew in and ordered two chocolate croissants. ‘I’m glad someone else believes that pyjamas make perfectly good daywear,’ I remarked to her, and instead of being put out, she appeared delighted. ‘Hackett,’ she told me, opening her coat so I could get a really good look.

My father always used to take striped PJs whenever we went travelling, and even if we were sleeping in the car in the hold of the Dover–Ostend ferry (cheaper than taking a cabin), he would formally remove his suit and don his pyjamas. Then he would instantly go to sleep, as the rest of us spent the night sleepless, squashed in the Opel Kadett trying not to expire from diesel fumes.

I suppose my father was operating on the same pleasure principle that applies to the removal of the tight ski-boots at the end of a long day on the slopes. Without the cold and the pain of skiing, there is no point to après-ski at all.

So the only drawback I can discern from the fact that lounge-wear is taking over the world is this: if we wear slob clothes all day, we never have the pleasure of taking them off. We cannot shed our tight clothes and slip into something more comfortable, as Joan, Anna and Daphne do in my fantasy, because — in my case at any rate — we’re already padding about in slippers, sweatshirts and trackie pants with elasticated waists, and have been for some time.

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