Thursday, May 22, 2008

More P.J.s!

Just a few days after my post on pyjamas as outdoor wear, I got an
e-mail from the photographer Justin Guariglia announcing a book signing at ICP this coming Friday for his new book “Planet Shanghai”. The book, which is essentially about the look and style of Shanghai, features dozens and dozens of pictures of people wearing pyjamas outdoors, as well as close-ups of Chinese footwear, Shanghai shoppers, and futuristic looking motorcycle riders.

Taken mostly in 2005, the rapid development in Shanghai is already changing how the city looks and feels and so the book is as much about a moment in time as current Shanghai style, but the images are nonetheless mesmerizing.

The prevalence of pyjamas, Guariglia explained to me, was due to both the extreme summer heat and the lack of plumbing. The area where most of the pictures were taken was one where many people had to use outdoor communal toilets and thus the boundaries of what was considered home expanded past people’s houses to the public bathrooms. Once that relaxation of the dress code became acceptable (starting around the 1980s) the perimeter for p.j.-wear just kept expanding until many people were wearing them day in day out.

In addition to the inherent quality of Guaraglia’s pictures, one of the things many readers of this blog will notice is their similarity to The Sartorialist’s photographs. What is equally interesting is the ways in which they differ. While superficially almost identical, the two photographers are worlds apart in spirit and intent. Guariglia depicts, Sart endorses. Guariglia is a journalist, Sart is an editor. In John Szarkowki’s parlance Guariglia is a window, Sart is a mirror.

What never ceases to be a source of wonder is how a mechanical instrument like the camera can produce images that in the hands of different photographers are so distinctly and personally expressive. It’s a miracle! And it’s why people like me have been involved and committed to photography for such a long time.


Alice Olive said...

I like the similiarities and differences you've drawn between Sartorialist and Guariglia.

As so beautifullly captured in this series, 'the pyjama' is a delicate item. The patterns and fabrics are so light.

dean said...

Gorgeous, and the photos alone create this ethereal vibrancy.

Mariana Chatelain said...

I really your your blog! Congratulations from France!

Anonymous said...

Spengler was right. The West is corrupt: outmoded. These pajama-clad cadres presage the demise of our memes.

"The whisper of silk slippers descending the stairs is drowned out by the tramp of booted feet ascending them."

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Individualism, that is.

Anonymous said...

I live in Vancouver, Canada, and I've been told, though I've never seen it myself, that some Chinese Canadians also wear their PJ's on the streets and in shopping malls.

Anonymous said...

Most Shanghaians share outdoor communal toilets

This is not true. 'Most' is a strong word to use. While some Shanghaians did share outdoor toilets 20 years ago. Today this is not the case.

Anonymous said...

expressive pix.

It's funny. It seems like designers in GoGo Shanghai would start churning out pajama-like clothing. But, I guess if you can wear your PJs, there's no need for that? Or, real old style pajama-style would seem too old-fashioned to them? Would seem not Western enough? Would seem too much countryside and not enough city?

Unknown said...

So it's kind of like Walmart. Interesting.

Post-it boy said...

wonder how this would go down in Shepherd's Bush?

Anonymous said...

This PJ practice is very much alive in Xiamen too, where people go do their errands and grocery shopping, or play badminton outdoors in PJs. The Florida-like weather of Xiamen (Fujian proviince) might explain it, but also the non-judgmental attitude of Chinese people toward other people's accoutrement. The strict dressing code so characteristic of Mao's days is definitely a thing of the past, as attested by the ravishing exuberance of Chinese youth apparel -- which is much more imaginative than in Western countries.

I also found the PJ dress code to be 'en vogue' in the Beijing hutongs (small alleyways lined-up with one-storey houses and 'hole-in-the-wall' shops).

There, I believe the phenomenon is linked to the fact that a hutong is a tightly knitted community where everyone knows everyone else.

Dwellers in the same hutong form a 'large family', and the structure of the courtyards (four one-storey houses grouped around a central courtyard) has probably fostered this sense of belonging.

Before 1949 and the foundation of New China, courtyards used to be one-family 'compounds'. But with the shortage of decent housing, and the rural migration towards urban centers, the Chinese government ordered owners of courtyards to open up their residences to other families.

Courtyards became shared, with two families or more living in tight quarters. When you and your neighbors know practically everything on each other, being seen in PJs by them doesn't matter very much anymore.

And true, public toilets are the norm in hutongs where people go wash themselves to a common sink, and share in the intestinal life of their neighbors over quasi open 'squatters'.

Anonymous said...

Communal toilets are largely a thing of the past. You make Shanghai sound like a backwater and not the ultra modern city that it is.

Where I love the only people wearing pajamas are old men.

The Year in Pictures said...

A number of people have e-mailed to say this is not an accurate view of Shanghai today. I felt I had made it clear that these are pictures of a particular time and place - and the photographs capture a phenomenon that clearly existed. The plumbing situation, I gather, has greatly improved. However, no offense was in any way intended and I apologize for any misconception.

Anonymous said...

I hereby declare June 12th as National Pajama-wearing day.

Anonymous said...

If I may add my two cents after years of living in SH, where my mom's family is from, the PJ episode is truly just an episode of the big book about a city of millions of residents.

My mom's family live in the area which used to be French Concession, and I don't recall seeing people in
PJ wandering around in the street when I spent my childhood afternoons at my grandma's window sill peoplewatching. And their bathrooms were equipped at pre-war eras with plumbing system from US.

On the other hand, it is not an overstatement that even today, in the lower-income neighbourhoods of Shanghai, the toilets and plumbing systems are still not quite modernized. But the population living with that is getting smaller and smaller every day.

In any case, thanks for the posts and though-provoking discussions.

Also, don't forget that comfort has always been an essential factor, think of Hugh Hefner's robe!

Shero said...

Wow, I am amused to see outdoor PJ wearing is popular in parts of China. I'm from Dublin in Ireland and I thought outdoor PJ wearing was strictly local phenomenon.

It is popular here in inner city neighbourhoods. I'm no authority on the subject but I think the PJs as outerwear thing may have begun simply as single mothers popping to to the shops in PJs in the morning but it has evolved into the buying of PJs with an eye to how they will look on the street.

It is only youg ladies that wear PJs on the street here, no old men, much less young men.

While seeing some young one on the steet in a pair of pyjamas is no longer a novel sight here it still never fails to amuse me.

Shero said...

From an Irish newspaper:

It has become so prevalent that Dublin city centre shops have noted an increase in the sale of PJs. Gretta Guiney of Talbot Street's famous Guiney's department store said sales of the cotton variety have soared.

She said: "We have noticed an increase and I myself have noticed the trend of girls wearing their PJs out ofthe house.

"There are even day pyjamas and night pyjamas - for out-on-the-town they wear satin and during the day it's cotton. A friend of mine saw women in a nightclub recently, dressed up to the nines in nightwear, with eye masks included as a fashionable headpiece. It's certainly a weird trend," said Gretta Guiney.

According to Trinity College sociologist, Dr Evelyn Mahon, the pyjama-wearing fad is especially strange as it is a reversal of the recent trend of wearing skimpy clothes.

"I'm a bit amazed by this because pyjamas are very modest outfits," she said.

"Up until now it was all tiny tops and skirts and low-slung jeans. Wearing pyjamas all day could be a sign of indifference or an apathetic attitude, but I really believe it is justleisure wear taken to the extreme.

"Anything goes as regards clothes these days. I think these are just comfortable outfits for lounging around in and the look has become acceptable on the streets." Psychologist Fiona Kelly-Meldon does not believe there is any deep, psychological reason behind the trend.

"These people are actually making an effort to dress up, even if they are dressing up in pyjamas. I don't think it signifies any sense of low self-worth or depression, I believe it is purely a fashion."

Fashion-watchers are describing it as "anti-fashion" - a way of giving two fingers to society's dictation of what is trendy and what is not. They say that style-wise and comfort-wise, it's the shell-suit for the 21st century.

Designer Jen Kelly, whose studio is in the heart of pyjama country on North Great George's Street, is no fan of the trend, describing it as "vile".

"It certainly will not be influencing any of my work," said Jen. "I think it's awful, it's vile, desperate and bizarre. You wonder if they are wearing any underwear under those things. OR is it even worse if they are? If it was fancy lingerie with sexy feathery high-heeled slippers you could understand it. But's it's big baggy pyjamas, sometimes with a bomber jacket thrown over if it's cold." He believes the trend has its roots in apathy and laziness.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine one could get this fashion 'wrong', but the woman on the right in the last photo clearly has. Ah well, I guess there IS hope!!

Dismal said...

All of these people look very relaxed . I wonder what comes first, being relaxed or wearing the Pj's? I'm from Melbourne (Australia) where it gets stinking hot in the summer (cold enough for the leaves to come off the trees in autumn though) and the Pj's actually look like the kind of clothes that people wear around here when it's hitting 35 - 40 degrees. But I guess it's easier to wear "clothes" with prints on them that designate them sleep-ware when it's socially acceptible, than when you know you'd get the "you can't wear those during the day, they're pajamas!" comments, unless you're comfortable enough within yourself to respond "i know and I don't care and I'm very comfortable in the heat and humidity in my freely circulating, cooling pajama air pockets controlled by my sheep decorated cotton clothing, thank you very much for asking".

Anonymous said...

great seria. seems, photography itself has become anthropological investigation.

pyjamas are so relaxing. looking at the seria, you get, that there are places, where going out for several meters to buy a food means being all in full fig.

Anonymous said...

Each photo has such personality - it's amazing how something as simple as pajamas can be expressive or tell you about someone's personal style.

TC said...

Although they seem to mostly be wearing Western-style pajamas, more traditional Chinese clothes are similar to pajamas. Perhaps this is a sign that eventually things will come full circle, people will get over Western fashion and go back to what works best for them personally.

*jean* said...

oh yeah, I thought I was the only one....whew!!! what's not to love about pj's?????

Kim Carney said...

so I could wear my PJ's to work!

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. The quality of the photos is unreal. What camera do you think he used for them?
Do you think it's possible to take pics like that with a Nikon D80?

Anonymous said...