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Minding Their Ps and Js

April 13, 2001|EMILY DWASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With all the pressure on students these days to excel, one might expect them to dress for success. Instead, a new campus fad has them dressing for a rest. Pajama bottoms are showing up as daywear at secondary schools and colleges across the country, mostly on girls, although some boys are joining in.

"Convenience and comfort," explains UCLA junior Bethany Bogart. "It's a lot more convenient to go to an 8 a.m. class wearing what you wore the night before . . . and sitting through a two-hour lecture in jeans can be uncomfortable."

Pajama bottoms are also the attire of choice for Sunday brunch at Washington University in St. Louis, according to freshman Melissa Seror. "I wear them all the time around the dorm . . . it's easy and simple," says Seror, who has 10 pairs of plaid pajama pants, from Target, department stores and Costco. She recently acquired a new pair: "My mom sent me a pair with hearts for Valentine's Day."

No one knows exactly when or where the trend started. In one of those fashion mysteries, the fad seems to have begun simultaneously in cities as diverse as Los Angeles and Buffalo. "This is a grass-roots trend. It's not coming from the runway, it's from the teens themselves," says Bonnie Fuller, New York-based editor in chief of Glamour magazine.

Dena Mark, a 10th-grader at Calabasas High School, thinks that schools may have triggered the fad by sponsoring annual "pajama days." She guesses some students were so at ease in jammies, they opted to wear the cozy outfits on other days, too.

Although Mark thinks the look is cute, she doesn't wear her pajama pants to class. "Some girls can totally pull it off," she says, "but I wouldn't feel comfortable at school in pajama pants." As soon as she gets home, though, she changes into pajama pants. "The ones I'm wearing right now have clouds with little bears. I have a matching top, but I don't wear it. I wear them with an old T-shirt," says Mark.

Indeed, that seems to be the unspoken rule: Pajama pants are never, ever worn with matching pajama tops. That would look too much like . . . pajamas.

"You never wear them with a matching pajama top. It doesn't feel right," agrees UCLA junior Lauren Emblem, who wears pajama pants to class, the movies and out for coffee. She also wears them on road trips, such as her recent spring break drive to Las Vegas. But Emblem, who has three pairs, feels the look is not appropriate in every social setting: "I would never wear them to a party, unless it was a pajama party."

High school girls favor putting on a clean pair of jammie pants in the morning. But Emblem says that's not the case at the university: "College girls will just roll out of bed. They don't care."

Stores such as Target, Old Navy and Gap sell the bottoms as separates. "They fly out the door," says Caralyn DeJong, store manager at Old Navy at Fallbrook Mall, where pajama pants are displayed beside colorful tanks and T-shirts (with no matching pajama tops in sight). This winter, the PJs of choice were flannel, with prints ranging from clouds to plaids. For spring and summer, there are new cotton prints in pastels and bright colors. For kids on a budget, the price is right. At Old Navy an entire pajama-themed outfit can be put together for less than $30. The long pants and new capri length cost $16.50. A tank top is $7. Matching flip-flops or sneakers complete the look.

"What we're seeing is that ready-to-wear and sleepwear are fusing," says Target spokeswoman Patty Morris, who is based in Minneapolis. "The pajama bottoms that we carry are very whimsical and fun, with clouds, puppies and plaids. Kids are wearing them as a means of self-expression."

Glamour editor Fuller, whose readers range from teens to 30-somethings, became aware of the pajama look recently at her son's bar mitzvah party. Instead of fancy dresses, many of the girls opted for pajama pants. But she also thinks there may be a deeper reason behind the fad than comfort; it's also an "anti-fashion" statement. The loose-fitting pajama pants are the opposite of form-fitting styles worn by today's teen stars like Britney Spears. "Any girl can wear pajama pants," says Fuller. "It's not all about having perfect abs. It doesn't matter about weight or size, because it doesn't show off their figures. It's anti-pressure and anti-sexual. Girls don't necessarily want to show off their midriff. Here's a way to be cool, to cover up and to be comfortable."

The trend doesn't bother etiquette expert Peggy Post, a contributing editor to Parents magazine. She sees no problem with pajamas in public, as long as they are clean and not in violation of a school dress code. "[The fad] doesn't surprise me," says Post. "The teen years are great years of expressing yourselves and trying new trends. This could really be classified as one of those forms of expression which adults don't understand."

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