This morning I was giggling when I heard Vogue Editor Alexandra shulman and Amy from The ONly Way is Essex discussing the dos and don’ts (for me definitely don’ts) of Onesy wearing on Womam’s Hour. For those of you who missed it on Sunday here is an edited version of my Sunday Times column on this very subject! What do you think?
Popping into John Lewis the other day to buy a few essentials — tights, soap, a couple of birthday presents — I stopped dead in my tracks. For there, resplendent among the Calvin Klein pyjama bottoms, gentlemen’s socks and elegant boxers, was a singularly repellent garment: a dark blue patterned babysuit intended for a fully grown man.
Now I hope that the spectre of the onesie has so far not darkened your days and that you remain in a state of Elysian bliss where all-in-one fluffy suits are strictly the preserve of toddlers — who, after all, have no say in sartorial matters. If so, say goodbye to your innocence. The onesie is everywhere, like a rash across our great nation.
It’s not just John Lewis. Britain’s high streets are awash with adult babysuits; retailers from Primark to Fair Isle, Asos to eBay are drowning in all-in-ones destined to make so-called grown-ups look like overgrown Teletubbies. There is a onesie for every taste: a male camouflage version can be had for £155, the John Lewis version costs £160 and comes in three colours and — crikey — a men’s “rabbit onesie sleepsuit with ears” (could anyone look alluring in that?) can be bought online for £35.
Celebrities are pushing the look, too. Brad Pitt was photographed the other day in a black zip-up version (proof that even one of the sexiest men in the world can’t pull this style off with anything like aplomb) and Harry Styles (Brad for teenyboppers, a member of the boyband One Direction) has been pictured in a grey sweatshirt version.
The onesie phenomenon has been building for a while. Last year, while visiting friends in Hertfordshire, I was ambushed by the 12-year-old son of my hosts watching telly in a blue fleece dinosaur version. Indeed, so besotted by it was he that a row ensued as his mother tried to persuade him to take it off because all that nylon had got decidedly whiffy. Next to him on the sofa his sister and — eek — his mother were similarly attired (one in pink fleece, the elder in Primark pink cotton).
When I protested, my friend assured me they were all the rage. I’m afraid she’s right. An active Mumsnet thread on the subject from last week is full of mothers eulogising their onesies and — worse — crowning them “acceptable Mumsnet attire”. One mother blogs about how her son’s teacher wore a Superman variety to school, while another confesses that her husband has one in the same style. (The mind boggles.) The largest cohort of onesie-wearers, however, are students: they claim it’s the ideal garb for those who spend large chunks of the day lolling around the house, and in freezing digs it has the advantage of keeping you warm during an all-night essay crisis. But is this really what we want? Or is the widespread adoption of onesies a development we should worry about? I would say: hell yes, particularly since they are increasingly emerging from the privacy of people’s homes onto the street. It’s bad enough that millions of us now infantalise ourselves by lolling around in adult babysuits in front of the telly — but onesies off the sofa and in the outside world and teamed with the grisly Ugg boot? It has to stop.
This is not just about aesthetics. I am convinced that the onesie is a symptom of a wider western malaise. At arguably our island’s greatest moment, after victory in the Second World War, even children wore proper clothes. Women wore gloves and girdles; chaps wore hats and proper shirts. With no Lycra leggings, shellsuits, velour tracksuit bottoms or onesies to slob about in, getting dressed meant being trussed and constricted, putting on a respectable outfit ready for serious action in the real world. I’ve come to believe that our desire to live in babygros is a symbol of our soft, infantalised society. I mean, what next? Alcopops sold in baby bottles with rubber teats to suck on? Chocolate mushed into baby gloop so we don’t have to chew? Adult nappies, so we don’t have to get off the sofa and go to the loo?
We hear a lot about the nanny state; perhaps the onesie is the ultimate proof of our cottonwool-wrapped existence. Maybe when the history of 21st-century Britain is written, the rise of the onesie will be listed alongside the loss of our last aircraft carrier and our inability to renew Trident, build more runways or decide on a growth strategy as one of the ultimate symbols of our post-imperial decay. Perhaps we will look back and see that while the cold winds of recession roared around us, rather than manning up and working harder to get back on track, we retreated from reality into a babyish cocoon.
Of course I am being a little facetious, but there is a serious point here. Visiting relatives in Dubai last week, I was struck not only by the ambition of the vision that has transformed a sandpit into the Las Vegas of the Gulf, but also by the incredibly high sartorial standards of all Dubai’s inhabitants. Ladies dress in skyscraper heels, full slap and up-to-the-minute fashion just to eat a sandwich for lunch. The glitzy arcades teem with cash-rich Arabs, Asians and Africans flaunting their wealth and energy. It’s not just Dubai, either. These days, to leave Britain and fly to the east is to realise that wealth, dynamism and modernity increasingly reside there, not at home. I defy anyone to visit Shanghai or Beijing and not be impressed by the vigour, work ethic and sheer transformational power of the Asian tiger. While we faff about trying to decide whether to have one more runway, they build eight. While we stifle growth with endless regulation and committees, they get on with it. We were the future once; we sure as hell aren’t now.
It may sound superficial, but that aspiration and can-do attitude is embodied in the way the citizens of these new worlds dress. I arrived in Beijing earlier this year confident that as a Londoner I could cut the sartorial mustard but immediately felt dowdy and provincial in the face of the super-slick, fashion-obsessed young Chinese. Walking around the Forbidden City, they posed with bling handbags and designer shoes, their pride in their nation reflected in their pride in themselves.
Rather than slobbing out in our onesies, we Brits must realise that if we are to compete with the emerging global superpowers in the coming century, we have to stop being complacent, engage our much-vaunted brains and superior creativity and get grafting. Repeat after me: burn that onesie and build a new Britain.