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Put Some Clothes On

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I saw one at the airport on Monday and then another in the elevator on Wednesday. I see them on the street, at coffee shops around town, often at the grocery. Now Obamacare supporters have adopted one as the face of their new public relations campaign.

I'm speaking of adults of both sexes and all ages -- though the style seems to be most popular among those under 30 -- who can't be bothered to change out of their pajamas when they go out in public. The latest entry into the fashion craze is Pajama Boy, the now infamous, plaid-clad twerp pushing Obamacare on Twitter. At least Pajama Boy is dressed in his onesie only in cyberspace, not sitting on an airplane at four o'clock in the afternoon.

I don't know what irritates me most about this phenomenon. Is it the lack of simple decorum? Or is it the infantilization of our popular culture?

The first time I saw a young woman wearing PJs in public, I assumed she was mentally ill or homeless or both. The flimsy cotton bottoms looked like they'd been lifted from the local hospital and were held up by a tattered drawstring. But she had enough money to order a venti Frappuccino at Starbucks and sit sipping it in her T-shirt and pajama bottoms at a suburban mall. That was a few years ago, and since then the trend seems to have accelerated.

What exactly are these sartorially challenged young people saying? For one, "I make my own rules."

Granted, it is only convention that says we wear one type of clothing for one purpose -- sleeping, lounging around before we go to bed -- and another for a different purpose -- shopping, traveling across country, going to the office. But convention matters.

Humans make rules that govern behavior. (Actually, all species do; ours are simply more numerous and elaborate.) Without those rules, we'd have not only anarchy, but shorter, less pleasant, more dangerous lives.

One of the ways we transmit signals about how to behave is through dress. If we walk into a room full of men and women in formal attire, we don't start doing jumping jacks or get down on the floor for yoga exercises. We don't think it odd to see bikinis on the beach, but we would be shocked to see them in the boardroom. Conventions differ between cultures and change over time, but no society, even the most liberal, dispenses with all conventions.

We've gone from blue jeans in the workplace to pajamas at the mall. What's next? It's hard to imagine we could become more casual in our attire than we already are, but then I never thought I'd see someone in his jammies in line at the supermarket.

But wearing pajamas in public isn't just unconventional -- it's juvenile. It signals that the wearer is not a full-fledged adult. Babies and toddlers wear onesies, so why are we now marketing them to adults? And while it might be OK to see a 3-year-old sitting in the grocery cart in her pajamas, do we really want to see her mother similarly attired? We can excuse the child for not changing his clothes before he meets the public, but his parents?

The message the wearer sends is "I'm lazy" -- and maybe a tad dirty, too. It's hard to imagine someone hopping out of bed and into the shower and then back into what he wore to sleep before heading out the door. Or are we to assume that the wearer has drawers and drawers full of freshly laundered PJs for all occasions?

So maybe putting a young man in red flannel pajamas in order to convince 20-somethings to act responsibly wasn't the most effective visual cue the Obamacare supporters could have chosen. When we depict young adults like infants, we shouldn't expect that they will behave as grownups. If you want to be taken seriously, try dressing the part.

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