Pyjama Games Best Kept From The Naked Eye

The Age

Saturday January 5, 2008

Katharine Murphy - Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent

Forget what fashion designers try to tell us - the wearing of sleep apparel should remain within the confines of the boudoir.

A FRIEND who is clever and important enough to travel at the comfortable end of the aircraft for business informed me the other day he draws the line at pyjamas, whether they are snappy little complimentary cotton numbers designed by Akira Isogawa, or the prosaic BYO variety, the trackie daks in the carry-on luggage you can whip on discreetly in the loo.

While his ritual for surviving regular international travel includes a deep, snoozy recline on the sky bed, the magic noise-killing earphones and the courtesy blanket, it does not include chatting amiably to fellow high-flyers in night-wear. It's not right to appear in pyjamas in front of people you hardly know, he informed me, and instinctively I understood he had delivered wisdom beyond the words. If we'd been in the Old Testament, a stone tablet would have dropped from the sky.

Strange isn't it how pyjamas are still an important instinctive threshold of intimacy in an age when we know far too much about everything. Seeing someone in their pyjamas takes things to a new level, it reveals something, it crosses an invisible boundary.

If a plumber is coming to fix the hot water service sometime between 7am and noon, are you fully dressed and vaguely resentful from 6.45? If there's a loud and unexpected knock at your front door do you throw it open to present confidently your pyjama-clad self to the world, or do you hide and hope the visitor will present at a more suitable time?

The reluctance to present in PJ's is all the more compelling when the currency of privacy is severely diminished: we know about Jude Law banging the nanny, the bad boob job of some soap actress, whether Lindsay Lohan is in or out of rehab, whether Suri Cruise is allowed to see Santa Claus or not. A recent newspaper photograph prompted widespread discussion about whether Labor MP Maxine McKew really had a Sharon Stone moment, turning up to the declaration of the polls in Bennelong not wearing any underwear.

The modesty impulse persists despite the valiant efforts of the market to correct our natural instincts. Remember when pyjamas were either racy lingerie produced in the wrong size by hopeful lovers on birthdays and anniversaries or sensible cotton in summer and flannelette in winter? Night-wear signifying only the intensely private bedroom activities of sleep or sex in the days before people such as Peter Alexander and Gail Elliott designed us into a parallel public universe characterised by intimate brunches with our fashionable circle where there is polite chatter over big white platters of something-or-other scrumptious styled by Donna Hay and Bill Granger.

These transitional pyjamas are designed to project us into a new zone, where it is OK and groovy to transit seamlessly between the boudoir and the waking world, where lovely, thin young people with perky breasts frolic together and sit about with brown legs and pink designer Ugg boots and talk about global warming or . . . something important.

But have you ever been to a brunch (apart from bleary-eyed gatherings of flatmates or families over soggy Weetbix or extended family Christmases) where people actually greet you in pyjamas?

Perhaps this whimsical examination of a hitherto much unremarked facet of contemporary culture exposes nothing more than the most obvious of facts: Katharine, you are dull. You are too old to have friends with breasts that can be seen without the company of a foundation garment. You are not at all fashionable or from a world where the boundary between waking and sleeping is indistinct. You do not attend brunches of the Right Sort, and these brunches happen All The Time. Without You.

But when I go to brunch, people are in clothes. They are stubbornly and defiantly in their clothes at brunch. They are steadfastly reserving something of their private self for their most intimate relationships, and putting up dividers that say, "I'm in the pyjamas at the precise moment when I abandon the brutalities of the world each night and I'm in the clothes for the other bits." I asked my mate, the veteran of the long-haul flights, whether anyone wore their jimmies in first class, whether these titans of the world really did talk stocks in their slippers. Some do, apparently, sit up with strangers in the tin can in the sky in night-clothes. Bold as brass it seems.

Perhaps this is the new divide. The people that do and the people that don't: the people prepared to leave nothing private, nothing implied, nothing imagined and the people who long for a small pocket of mystery in a world of the long lens, continuous disclosure, no borders and no formality.

Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent.

© 2008 The Age

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