Are we going out? I'll get my pyjamas

 

A sign at a health centre in Blanchardstown asked people not to turn up for appointments in pyjamas. Is it fair to impose a dress code on welfare claimants?

ON A GREY WEDNESDAY afternoon two people are queuing to see the community welfare officers based at Damastown Health Centre, in Blanchardstown, in north Dublin. For the record, neither of them is wearing pyjamas.

Damastown is one of the health centres that hit the news this week because of a sign banning claimants from wearing sleepwear when attending appointments. “Please be advised that Pyjamas are NOT regarded as appropriate attire when attending Community Welfare Services at these offices,” read the notice, which also appeared in nearby Corduff Health Centre before being photographed and posted to social-media sites.

There is no sign of the controversial notice this afternoon. “It was taken down earlier,” says a helpful HSE porter who doesn’t want to be named. “A call came from on high to get rid of it. I don’t know why, but I don’t think they liked the publicity. I was happy with the sign myself. I don’t think people should be going into any public buildings in their pyjamas. It’s only a handful of people who do it, but it’s not right, especially if you are supposed to be looking for a job.”

Standing in the queue, Hanna Zebrowska from Poland nods in agreement. Until she came to Ireland she had never seen anybody wearing pyjamas outside their homes. “When I first saw them I thought they must be drunk or something,” she says. “You would never see it in Poland. Not even homeless people would do that. They try to show respect in public places. In an office like this you should show respect for the people who work here and the other people who come in.”

It is understood that the sign was put up after some clients of the service complained about fellow claimants turning up in pyjamas. Asked about the policy and whether it operated in other social-welfare offices around the country, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said there was no dress code for customers accessing community welfare services. “Generally, the manner of dress is not a contentious issue, but a local manager may act on complaints or concerns expressed by customers on an individual basis,” the spokesperson said.

The sleepwear-as-daywear trend is thought to have begun in the council estates of Liverpool about a decade ago when pyjamas took over from tracksuits as the leisurewear of choice.

The young women – it’s nearly always women wearing pyjamas outdoors; rarely men – even acquired an uncomplimentary acronym. Yuans stood for “young, unwashed and no sense”.

This is not the first time pyjama-wearing in public has caused controversy. In 2007, parents of children at a primary school in Belfast were admonished by the principal, who sent them a letter pointing out that wearing pyjamas on the school run was “slovenly and rude”. A Tesco supermarket in Wales made headlines when it put up notices asking customers not to shop in sleepwear or barefoot.

An editorial in the London Times yesterday highlighted the growing intolerance towards people wearing PJs in public.

“What we would always say is that people will judge you very quickly based on their first impression and that judgment is generally made within the first seven seconds,” says Audrey Buckley, cofounder of the Irish Image Consultants Institute.

According to Buckley, 55 per cent of that first impression is based on how a person looks.

“If you are wearing pyjamas outside the house the impression will be that you are lazy, that you haven’t bothered to get dressed. It’s to do with self-respect and not letting yourself down. It sends out a lot of negative signals.”

But some people won’t be deterred. In recent years chain stores such as Penneys have expanded their pyjama ranges so that many of them now include clothing that blurs the line between sleepwear and daywear.

When The Irish Timesinterviewed a selection of die-hard pyjama-wearers in Dublin’s north inner city in 2006 they were adamant that it simply came down to comfort.

“Where we live there isn’t much to get dressed for, so I suppose that’s why we don’t bother,” said one. “I think if they stopped worrying about what people think and realised how comfy it is to wear pyjamas all day, more people might do it.”