Shanghainese wearing pajamas in public should be popularized

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/15 18:28:39

In Shanghai, it is common to see residents wearing pajamas in public places: hanging out on sidewalks, strolling in the park or shopping at the wet market. Colorful cotton pajamas are ubiquitous in this city, making many newcomers confused why China's most modern and fashionable metropolis is overrun by "uncivilized" locals.

I too was confused when I first moved to Shanghai a decade ago. I once thought that the "pajama phenomenon" only existed in less-developed regions of China, like my own hometown in Central China's Hunan Province.

But to my surprise, the situation is not much different here. It is just as ordinary to see someone in pink linen PJ's riding the subway as it is to see someone in a three-piece suit.

Many people, however, believe that wearing nightwear in public places is both improper and impolite. Although "regarding the city I live in as my own home" is sort of a slogan that many Chinese cities use to educate citizens not to litter, native Shanghainese who wear their "home clothes" outside seem to have taken the slogan too far.

Nonetheless, I have gradually come to understand Shanghai residents' unique preference for pajamas, and the historical and cultural reasons behind it.

Once considered an exotic and luxurious Western apparel, it is said that in the early 20th century, when foreign-style nightgowns were first imported to China, they were so expensive that only a few of the most wealthy locals in Shanghai could afford them. As a result, showing off one's fancy pajamas outside became a Chinese status symbol.

Even though anyone today can buy cheap pajamas, in the eyes of some Shanghai locals, especially the elderly, wearing one's PJs in public is still fashionable - or at least - acceptable.

Many nightgowns that you might see people wearing as they stroll down Nanjing Road East or Xintiandi are in fact trendy, high-end and well-made. Uniqlo pajamas, for instance, are similar to daily sportswear. Chanel and Givenchy also sell pajama-like luxury clothing for thousands of dollars.

Pajamas have even become a local fashion icon that combine leisure, art, personalization and nostalgia. During the 2017 Shanghai AW Fashion Week, some models posed in elaborately made nightgowns at Shanghai's shikumen (traditional stone gated communities) in honor of this distinctive regional clothing.

Yet Shanghai's PJ culture continues to annoy local authorities, who worry that it may harm Shanghai's cosmopolitan image. A decade ago, prior to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the city tried to prohibit its residents from wearing pajamas outside.

"In one residential community, the 'dress-code supervising volunteers' patrol twice a week to see whether there are people wearing nightgowns," China Newsweek wrote in a 2009 article. "Standing at the gate of the community, they stop anyone in pajama who is going out."

But do pajamas really matter to foreigners? In 2008, American photographer Justin Guariglia published a book showcasing portraits about Shanghai's preference for PJs.

"It's primarily a Shanghai fashion phenomena, and a rather charming and rather elegant one at that," said Guariglia, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal in 2008. "There has been a raging debate in Shanghai media over people wearing pajamas in public, and I support the pro-pajama movement. I hope it becomes more accepted around the world."

Though I personally would not wear a nightgown on the street, I too am fine with others wearing whatever they like. In fact, Shanghai should consider adopting Western culture's "Casual Friday" feature, when workers can wear anything they like to the office on Fridays. But the Shanghai version should be called "Friday Jammie Jam."

I hope that local authorities will not impose a dress code on residents. Let's continue to keep Shanghai open, inclusive and diverse - not only to the outside world but also to its own natives.

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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