Is it even a real category? Loungewear may not appear in your style radar, but with WFH arrangements prevalent now, they are as legit and persuasive as athleisure
Illustration: Just So
By Ray Zhang
Spell checks are really slow when it comes to the inclusion of words of popular usage. Fashion terms are almost ignored: Electronic dictionaries in our devices embrace them with the enthusiasm of your grandmother enjoying social-media profanities. When I typed—as I write this—‘loungewear’ on my virtual keyboard, the noun that appears on the screen is underscored by the red squiggle that tells me the word is not in the system’s built-in dictionary. Athleisure has not been excepted either. No reason, then, that loungewear—much older—should make the cut.
Regardless of what typing the word brings up on screen, loungewear is now both catchword and fashion of the day. With work hours and downtime now indistinguishable, loungewear is up for mass adoption. Online accounts have confirmed its prevalence and media reports too, including one by ST, which delightfully noted that “many are realising that working from home brings the perks of dressing down and working in unpolished comfort”. Would adding a dressing gown reverse that potentially oxymoronic description to make comfort polished? Just as we are not expected to fill our days with demure quietude, I don’t see many people dress in refined marvelousness. I am not sure if the writer had gotten loungewear mixed up with what I call loll-wear. It appears to me, that most people at home are lolling than lounging, with some IG posts showing those working doing so in bed, even under sheets.
Loungewear everywhere, as evidenced by the laundry we put out to dry
Frankly, I don’t know if you need a WFH order to enjoy this “perk”. What most people wear now are home clothes and few would consider them worthy enough to be categorised as loungewear. It is true, as the ST piece noted in the intro with interviewee Ailynn Song, a customer relationship management specialist with Carousell, that there are many who delight to be in “nothing but pyjamas”. I know of those who content with wearing night clothes throughout the day, and this mode of dress they consider loungewear. In a similar report by Yahoo Style, featuring various individuals in their at-home best (not everyone was selfie-d at home!), one marketing type Pat Law was even more detailed: “There is nothing more liberating than to be pitching in PJs without my bra and underwear.”
Someone asked me, “What happens if a client reads that?” I really don’t know. Won’t it depend on the client? Anyway, underwear is different thing to different people. And they don’t always remain under. A friend told me this morning that she is “happy to be in her negligee all day”. That’s underwear enough, I suspect. Lest you should be mistaken, I did not go around asking people to describe to me what they have on at the point of our chat, as if I was in pursuit of some visual to satisfy a perverse need. Perhaps, my friend meant déshabillé (from the French déshabiller, meaning to undress), which in 17th century France was really the loungewear of its day—“little nothings”, wrote Francophile Joan DeJean in The Essence of Style—but was soon worn outside. Okay, I am putting a fashion spin on my friend’s lack of clothes, which is imagining her consumed by elegance that is usually at odds with a utilitarian home setting.
Do guys not prefer just (boxer) shorts at home, despite many appearing in joggers in their IG posts? Illustration: Just So
Truth be told, I wear nothing but boxers at home. Have always worn them, since I was a kid. I have never own a set of pyjamas in my life, and loungewear is a marketing tag and, to me, such a waste of money. Most of my male friends wear boxers at home, even to go out of the front door to pick up what the Grab Food fellow left outside. There are, of course, those who are married to modesty, and for them a T-shirt teamed with pair of boxers is de rigueur. Boxers, whether alone or with additional underpants (common practice!) are comfort at its best, which may explain why they are popular among women, too. I was told that Calvin Klein boxer shorts are not only worn by women who borrow their boyfriend’s/husband’s, they are also bought by those who want their own.
In the past, loungewear was not sleepwear or underclothes. And certainly not worn to while away one’s extra hours at the first-class lounge. It was, as the name suggested, for lounging (also pottering), and in, as far as I am aware, private quarters. A lounge in Britain is a sitting room (in Australia, it is known as a lounge room), but these days, it is not often known in that context. Most of us equate a lounge with a large sitting area in a hotel, a theatre, or an air terminal. Lounge is of fairly recent usage—around 1930s, I understand. In my home, I grew up with my parents referring to the front part of our flat as the ‘hall’, which was the word used in England until the mid-1600s, before the more posh-sounding parlour or drawing room came into popular usage. Still, living room is now the standard, if only because Ikea always refers to the part of a house after the main door as that. According to a survey by the British department store John Lewis, age and lounge correlate. If you are a millennial—and I guess you are—you are likely to use living room. Those older (35-54 years, and only referring to the English), tend to say lounge.
“People did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed
Even outmoded as an expression for living room, lounge is adopted in the first half of the conflation that refers to clothes you wear at home, not necessarily just in the space where sofas are usually placed, where you receive those currently disallowed creatures, guests. In the distant past, people did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed (unless it was even before pyjamas—a word, incidentally of Hindi origin— when the nightshirt or nightdress for women was widely worn). Lines started to blur in the Roaring Twenties: The deep cry of excitement was most pronounced when Coco Chanel introduced silk pyjamas as evening wear (there was even a version for the beach). And once hooked, many women no longer equate the pyjamas with or remember them as men’s bedroom garb once brought back to England by colonials with stints in India.
Loungewear as a word came into use in the mid-’50s, when it became more acceptable for both men and women wearing the shirt-and-pants combo to lounge in, or for what was also known as “leisure”, so much so that there were brands and shops that sold clothing worn at home. Things might have accelerated when, two years earlier, the 1953 film Roman Holiday allowed an adorable Audrey Hepburn to face the camera in what looked like a set of men’s pyjamas. Relaxed clothing have, of course, never really been restricted to the lounge. Since that Holiday, pyjamas-outside-the-bedroom/lounge appear to have gone from strength to strength, culminating in Grace Coddington wearing Michael Kors pyjamas to the Met Gala in 2015’s China Through the Looking Glass. Today, even Big Bang’s Taeyang reportedly loves not getting out of his PJs.
Have T-shirts and shorts not always been our version of loungewear?
Loungewear as a fashion category has since expanded to include almost anything that is deemed comfortable. The key is to dress to chill, which allows another curious phrase to come into use—“comfort dressing”, as if clothes traditionally worn inside of one’s home have been doors away from comfort. Regardless of word choice, loungewear now includes athleisure staples such as pullovers and sweatpants, and virtually anything—or the lack of—that can be considered comfortable. And they are not just for the confines of your home and those confined with you. I see how loungewear have now become Zoom-ready (nobody dresses up even for Zoom happy hour!), as well as IG-ready. I see how loungewear is touted online with the same fervour as the other definitely newer category “fashion mask”. I see how those in loungewear can perform for the world to see, such as Dick Lee in a striped singlet, belting what else but Home. Or the Mediacorp stars, stuck indoors, urging you to Stay Home for SG via their smartphone, in full loungewear glory.
We are in the thick of a pandemic that not only stopped the world in its tracks, but also halted the inclination for many to slip into slacks. To better binge on Netflix or AirBnB’s virtual experiences? Going extremely casual is, without doubt, our national passion. On our island, we are stuck to our shorts, sometimes so ratty, it’s regrettable they have to be dispatched to meet the day. We have, in fact, derived such a narcotic joy from clothes that are of “unpolished comfort”, to quote ST, that we risk being enslaved to the uniform of well-worn T-shirts and shorts, with nary a soupçon of style, even after the lockdown is totally lifted. It is, of course, true that with a downturn in spending on clothes, who’s thinking of looking polished? Or presentable, since we have no one to present ourselves to. Perhaps at Zoom parties?!
I had thought that the casualisation of fashion would stop right at athleisure or the hem of track pants. How much more dress-down can we get from there? More! Especially when home is the centrestage of our life. Few activity is as anti-fashion as, for example, Netflix—binge watching requires no polished form of dress. Nor, for that matter, watching others on TikTok in their loungewear fineness against a domestic setting—captivating it seems to see people in mundane buzz. Regardless of what online magazines and newspapers are encouraging people to do, few groom for Zoom or the like, except perhaps Anna Wintour, who’s on the video chat app “day in day out”, as she told Naomi Campbell on the latter’s YouTube show No Filter. What would Karl Lagerfeld—if he were alive—have said to the Vogue editor after seeing her in what has been reported to be sweatpants? “Tres chic, Anna”? Or would he repeat his famous retort: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat”?
Photos: Jim Sim