Jonathan deBurca Butler Photos: Maura Hickey
A social welfare office in Blanchardstown, North Dublin could scarcely have imagined the ructions it would cause when it last week posted an advisory notice on its premises stating that “pyjamas are NOT regarded as appropriate attire when attending community welfare services in these offices”.
The notice caused quite a stir in the media and online and The Irish Examiner was keen to find out how the people of Dublin felt about the ‘controversy’. So suitably…eh… inappropriately attired in a navy blue pyjama top and red tartan bottoms I donned my grey bathrobe, put on a newly acquired pair of pink slippers and took to the streets of the capital to ask around.
No sooner had I stepped out onto Merrion Square than I found myself being recorded by some Brazilians who were giggling disbelievingly at my get up; bearing in mind that their country is currently in the midst of carnival that’s quite an achievement. One of their teachers is 29-year-old Crumlin native John Monohan. He believes those sporting jim-jams in the daytime are maybe sending a message to the rest of society – a message that quite possibly begins with F and ends with youz.
“I think it’s a bit of a joke,” he says. “I thought going down to the Spar was bad enough but it’s probably a statement that you’ve dropped out of society altogether if you’re not even willing to put on your trousers in the morning. It doesn’t display much ambition, does it?”
A short stroll from John’s workplace, Dublin Bus driver Sean is taking a break from his early shift. He is not a fan of the nightwear to the welfare brigade.
“Well, I think it’s disgraceful really,” he says a little shyly. “You should have some respect, you know.”
After the first few minutes of walking around and getting used to the initial expressions of bafflement I actually begin to feel quite comfortable – the pink slippers are particularly soft. Most of the facial expressions I glimpse seem to suspect banter rather than anything sinister. And it’s easy to see how you could spend the day in this clobber.
Before going up the main thoroughfares we decide to pop into Trinity College, and ask some students what they thought; sure don’t they spend half their lives in pyjamas?
While it was actually a bit tough your intrepid reporter managed to cajole four students into giving us their views on this most pressing of issues.
“It all depends on what you think suitable attire is,” says 19-year-old music student Dean Millar from Co. Down. “Clothes are clothes as long as you’re covering yourself it should be fine. At the same time make an effort and get dressed.”
Three of the four seem to think they would be allowed to attend a lecture in their nocturnal apparel. But 22-year-old Eoghan Desmond from Cork (along with your scribe) isn’t so sure.
“I think people have been kicked out in past years,” he says. “There is a mythology going around about it anyway. So I’m not sure you’d be allowed in. It’s kind of disrespectful. If you’re going in anywhere in your pyjamas you’re clearly not taking it seriously.”
“I think we should be allowed to wear whatever we want,” says feisty 21-year-old Dominica Williams. “If we want to wear pyjamas we should wear pyjamas, if we want to wear a dress that shows everything we should be allowed to do so.”
The momentary silence suggests that the three lads positively approve of the latter idea.
At the bottom of Grafton Street an oversized Leprachaun, who is clearly delighted to see someone looking as ridiculous as he does, opens his arms to suggest some sort of a cuddle. I duly oblige and as we pose to get our photos taken I ask him how he feels about pyjama-gate.
“Yeah, I heard about it alright and I think it’s ridiculous,” he laughs. “They come in with all sorts of negligée and lingerie and it looks great. It adds a bit of glamour to the dole queue. A bit of positivity. Why not?”
As I mull over the Laeprachaun’s blatant embellishments of detail, I’m approached by three young women offering free hugs. Taking advantage of my now wholly comfortable position as the biggest nutcase currently walking the city I dive straight in and hug all three of them.
It turns out that the girls are German and when I explain to them what we are doing and why, they seem a smidgen gobsmacked.
“People go around in their pyjamas?” says one of them disappointedly, perhaps realising that handing out hugs on a main thoroughfare in Dublin isn’t as uber-crazy as she had hoped.
“There is no way you would be allowed to do this in Germany,” says another.
On hearing this – and presumably because of my alluring pink slippers – northside resident Stephen McGrath comes over to offer his tuppenceworth.
“I actually live in Ballybough myself and it’s common place for people to walk kids to school in pyjamas,” he says “My own view is that it’s acceptable to a degree, you know I just think it’s part of Dublin and I just laugh at it.”
Bridie, a flower vendor on Grafton Street says that she doesn’t see as many women in their pyjamas as she used to. In fact, according to Bride I’m the first person she has seen going down this famous street in their pyjamas; as the statue of Phil Lynott looks on, my chest swells somewhat at the thought.
With my confidence now at an all-time high I spot an all-singing, all-dancing Hare Krishna quartet coming down Grafton Street and decide to join them. There’s no way I would have done this in my civvies and it is somewhat liberating.
Now emboldened I head for the Merrion Hotel. Towards the steps I walk and nodding at the doormen I make my way up the steps and into the main foyer where I am greeted by a younger concierge.
“Good afternoon sir,” he says without batting an eyelid.
“Are you seriously not going to stop me?” I ask as I am about to walk past him.
Almost disappointed not to be turned away, I turn around and out the door, realising that this was probably not the first time they had seen something similar. There has probably been a plethora of rock stars and movie actors who have come in and out in strange or apparently unsuitable attire. It suddenly dawns on me that dressing whatever way you want spans all class of person – just that if you have money it’s called fashion. Still, I think I’ll keep my jammies for bed time in future. And I’m definitely keeping the slippers.
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Social Protection “there is no dress code for customers accessing the Community Welfare Services…but a local manager may act on complaints or concerns expressed by customers on an individual basis.”
When asked if the manager at the office had the support of the Department the answer was typically vague.
“The Department of Social Protection makes every effort to respond to customer feedback,” came the response. “And it was in this spirit that the advisory notice was displayed.”