I Wore My Pyjamas Into Increasingly Nice Supermarkets to See Who Cared
Tesco has just given its staff the right to eject customers wearing pyjamas, so I thought I'd put some other places to the test.
It was yesterday morning, scrolling through Metro dot com, when it happened. A story about a comment that Chris Cooke, a man from Salford, had left on Tesco's Facebook page. Directed at the supermarket's management, the post shows a slightly out-of-focus photo of two girls dressed in pyjamas, shopping in Tesco Salford. Harmless, right? WRONG, according to Cooke. In fact, he describes their actions as "bloody disgusting", calling for people dressed like this to "not be served in stores".
Tesco, somewhat surprisingly, didn't swat Cooke down in their response. Instead, they lodged the complaint officially, suggesting he's one of "many customers" who have made the same kind of comment. This confused me. Surely Cooke can't be representative of the majority? Like exit polls or social media, are differing views over pyjama-wearing in public yet another indicator of how detached we are from one another nowadays?
To find out, I decided to get out of bed, unwashed and unchanged, and brave Birmingham's great outdoors. I would enter supermarkets for five minutes a time, dressed in my own pyjamas and dressing gown, going about my own business, to see whose doors are open to the people, and whose have been lost to the aristocracy.
All photos: Tim Mobbs
There's only one place for this quest to begin, and that's at the beginning. The heart of the debate: Tesco.
With five minutes on the clock, I'm ready to go. I pace through the doorway and feel eyes upon me. The words of Chris Cooke echo in my mind – "bloody"... "disgusting". There's no way I'm going to last longer than a few minutes in here.
As I stare sheepishly at an El Paso Fajita Seasoning Kit, a man makes a beeline for me. My back tenses, my muscles seize, then – as his mouth opens – he utters, "Excuse me," and passes me by. All of a sudden the mood lifts and I realise: the people of Tesco don't have a problem. No – it must be the bourgeoise upstairs: management (something seemingly confirmed when I open my phone to find the news that Tesco has now given its managers permission to eject any customers wearing pyjamas). So I burst through the red tape and put the question to them.
"Do you have any problem with me being dressed like this?"
They take a look.
"So long as you've not got anything popping out and you're covered up, mate, there's no problem." He smiles. "It's not uncommon to get pyjamas in here."
"Oh. And you've had no complaints about them?"
"Not that I know of, no."
Well, who'd have thought it – Tesco: supermarket of the people.
Tesco is a battleground won, but now it's time to climb a rung up the ladder. With five minutes back on the clock, I'm heading to Sainsbury's.
Sat down, waiting for coffee and watching the minutes fall away, you'd have thought I'd feel heartened, but I don't. I search for fellow defiant, comfortable shoppers in pyjamas. I don't see any. Could it be that the pyjama-wearers of 2017 have already conceded? Perturbed, I decide to judge an honest human reaction.
"Sir," I say, stopping a man and staring intensely into his eyes. "How does this make you feel?" The man's eyes dance down my arms, toward my fingertips, which are pointing at a phone screen.
He stops scanning pomegranate juice for a second, squints and looks back to me.
"This is you, isn't it?" I nod. "Well, I don't know how it makes me feel," he continues. "It's fine."
"No problem with this at all?" I ask.
"No." He frowns and gets back to work.
Another one down, baby. People: 2, Persecutors: 0.
MARKS & SPENCER
If there's anything to be learned from 2016, it's that your nan's opinion definitely still matters. Consider this: Bradley Walsh, presenter of ITV's The Chase, released a swing record, and it was named the best-selling debut British artist of the year. One older person was my late grandmother, who I'm sure would absolutely loathe everything about me in this moment: she wouldn't let you leave the house without polishing your shoes, let alone in your pyjamas. The one place I can imagine her haunting is her beloved Marks & Spencer, so it's here I head to next.
The difference between Tesco and Sainsbury's isn't that pronounced; Sainsbury's is just, you know, a bit nicer. It's got marginally better packaging. But the leap to M&S is a big one. This is a chain that sells Madagascan tiger prawns in its motorway service station outlets. So surely they'll have more exacting standards for their customers than my last two spots?
But no: despite one or two double takes, and a helpful store clerk admitting she "wishes she could get away with that", it's more of the same really. Waiting for the toilet, however, I notice Ailene, a lady who seems uncomfortable. So I put it to her.
"I don't think you should be doing that, sorry." She gestures toward my robe. "They're for sleeping. You haven't had a wash, got out of bed, or anything else."
"Would you file a complaint about somebody dressing like this?"
"No, but I will say this: have a shower and get dressed. You'll feel much better for it."
That's it, isn't it: the ceiling. M&S: a place where men like Cooke can shop in peace, never to be bothered by "bloody disgusting" people buying milk, clothed in what still look very much like clothes, but are in fact offensive.
I feel a tap on the shoulder. "I don't agree with that."
Maurice cuts into our conversation in his thick Brummie accent. "You see people all the time like this, and it doesn't bother me. I'm alright with it. One thing that does cross my mind is, have you come out and not realised?" he laughs. "As I've come out the house with slippers on. But it's fine: you look comfortable."
With the buzzer going, my time in M&S is up. And the debate between Maurice and Ailene continues. They're like Constanza and Seinfeld, caught in that sweatpants argument from all those years ago: Ailene, supporting Jerry's suggestion that it's a symbol of giving up; Maurice, with his Constanza-ian inability to let highly unimportant issues go.
This must be a microcosm of the battle engulfing our country at large.
I've had it with guarded British supermarkets – I need a hostile, prickly and snootier place than ever. So, next, I tread the marble floors and designer aisles of Selfridges.
Taking soft steps through columns of shit I'll never be able to afford, I notice something: I'm repelling everyone I pass, like a shark swimming through colossal schools of fish. No customers want to be side-by-side with a man in pyjamas, and no clerks want to bother a man in a dressing gown.
So this is the key to supermarket peace? All along, this is all we needed to shop like this? Praise the Lord – let's celebrate!
I ask a lady at the Bollinger champagne bar for a sample, and she obliges me with a champagne chocolate, no follow-up. I don't know if it's that champagne chocolate going to my head, but I feel unstoppable. There's one last target for me: a chance to play things out at Birmingham's crème de la crème.
HARVEY NICHOLS, THE MAILBOX
The Mailbox: an expansive ghost town for the affluent – pretty much the most expensive place in the UK's not-so-affluent second city. Adorned with modern art and punctuated by black-tie restaurants, security here won't let stag-dos or hens in: so surely I'm out of the question?
I make my way over toward management to see what they have to say.
"I thought you may be troubled or perhaps ill," says the man. "But I have no issue with the way you're dressed."
"This isn't something that The Mailbox would have an issue with?"
So there you have it: Cooke was wrong. No reasonable people really give a shit about anyone wearing pyjamas in public. We live in an accepting and progressive society. One ready for change. So I implore you: take to the streets in dressing gowns; this is the uniform of the future. I've got good feeling about 2017. A very good feeling.