Conspiracy? Something like that might have been what was happening. Or maybe it was a warped corporate policy designed to dominate the retail market. And believe me, I did my best to look into this thing. Someone needed to investigate and this is that exciting story.
A few years back I noticed some people in the big box store (the one we all know) wearing pajama pants. It was November and fairly cold, not weather for that kind of garment. Most of the pj wearers were female and they looked as if they were part of the low-income demographic group. It didn’t seem important.
As the months passed this trend increased. More women of all age groups were wearing pajama bottoms while shopping, mostly in that same big box chain. I saw them in upstate New York, downstate Delaware and just outside of Washington, D.C. The women didn’t seem well off. And now and then I saw pajama bottom wearing men. I didn’t see this trend in Sears or Macy’s or even Old Navy. People in Old Navy seemed to favor sweat pants.
I took an informal survey of people I know, people across the spectrum of economic solvency. Not one person, rich or poor, would admit to wearing sleepwear while shopping. My survey sample included about eighty individuals. Some pre-election poll results rely on smaller samples than that.
The trend continued to grow. I started to see sleepwear wearers in the grocery store. One day I decided to ask a couple individuals why they were wearing pajamas for shopping. Every one responded that they were either going later to, or had just come from, that big store and that they liked wearing these comfortable clothes when they shopped there. So it seemed that shopping at one particular retail chain was driving this abhorrent fashion trend. Why, I wondered?
I went to one of the stores and asked for the manager. This was the conversation I secretly recorded:
Me: Mr. ________, I wonder if you could answer a question for me?
Manager: Okay. What is it?
Me: Why do so many people, especially women, wear pajamas while shopping in your store?
Manager: Why do you ask?
Me: Well I’m trying to find out what is driving the trend.
Me: Because it seems odd and I’m curious?
Manager: Don’t you have better things to worry about?
Me: It could be important.
Manager: Good bye. Have a nice day.
As you can see this manager was obviously avoiding my probing questions. So, I went about five miles down the road to another store in this worldwide chain and asked to see the manager. She kept me waiting for fifteen minutes before having someone escort me to her office. Again, I recorded the conversation:
Me: Can you tell me why so many of your customers wear sleepwear as they shop in your store?
Manager: Why don’t you ask them? Furthermore, why do you care?
Me: Well it seems to be an odd fashion trend and it seems to originate with your company. Why would that be?
Manager: With all due respect, sir, I really don’t have time for this nonsense. Please get out of my office. Security!
Again, an official of the company was concealing information. I called corporate headquarters and could not get any answers from the automated call-receiving system. And no one returned my calls after I left detailed messages that the system asked for. Why was this company afraid of my investigation? Was there something illegal going on?
I decided to go undercover. I went to one of their stores, one I had never visited, and bought a nice flannel sleepwear outfit. Normally I sleep in the nude so I had no appropriate garments in my home. The next day I headed to the closest branch of this chain and proceeded to push a cart through the aisles, engaging in casual conversation with other customers attired as I was. I recorded these conversations and here are some samples.
With a large woman driving an electric scooter cart:
Me: Hi there. Nice pjs. You shop here often?
Woman: Get lost ya’ freak!
With a younger, very thin, very agitated woman pushing a cart full of electronic equipment:
Me: Hi. You’re certainly well equipped. For video and sound, that is. Those are very nice pajamas you’re wearing. Did you buy them here? My wife might like some of those.
Woman: What? What did you say? Are you some kind of pervert? Are you? Get the hell away from me you pervert! I’m going to call the security people. Go away!
My last approach was to another young woman of substantial size who had two small children in tow. All three of these people were wearing sleepwear. The little ones had pjs with footie things.
Me: Hi there. The family that wears pjs while shopping together stays together, right? (I chuckled at my little witticism)
Woman: Que pasa?
Me: Why are you all wearing pajamas for shopping here?
Woman: Que? Yo no hablo ingles. Dejanos solos, idiota!
Me: Have a fine day.
Were all of these customers aligned with this corporation in some kind of organized movement? Was it dangerous? I was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of these questions. I needed to go deeper undercover.
Online I applied for a job with the company. I carefully avoided stores where I had spoken to the manager. That’s easy to do since there are so many locations in this vast retail empire. Within hours I had an interview and was hired as a store greeter. The very next day I was given an orientation and got my special yellow vest with the asterisk on the back. At no point in the orientation was there mention of encouraging customers to buy, and then shop in, pajama bottoms.
On my first day I followed company protocol and merely greeted customers and checked their receipts against items in their bags and carts as they left the store. I accosted two people trying to shoplift and was complimented by my immediate supervisor. The next day I began (casually) asking other employees about the pajama trend. All denied any knowledge of conspiracy or corporate policy. It wasn’t until the morning of the first day of my third month on the job that I got a break. A new person was cleaning the bathrooms near customer service. He was an older gentleman and he told me right away that he had transferred from another store so he could be closer to his new girlfriend. I casually introduced a question about the sleepwear issue, which seemed to have increased even more in the three months I had worked as a greeter.
I recorded this part of my conversation with the new janitor.
Me: So, do you think the company encourages people, in some way, to wear pajamas while shopping.
Janitor: Why sure. A couple years back the company hired a few women in each area to wear pajamas and walk around the stores like they was shopping. I noticed they never checked out those carts they was pushin’. And I know they was hired ‘cause they’d come to the manager late at night and get a envelope.
Me: I see. Are all the people wearing pajamas getting paid? And why did the company care about this?
Janitor: Well no, dummy, they ain’t all getting paid. People copy other people. And the big bosses in the company came up with the idea because they think if people are real comfortable shopping in these places then they won’t shop nowhere else. You see? Nothin’ as comfortable as walkin’ around in pjs, right? Warm and cozy. That’s all it is. Comfort. Now look at that woman over there walkin’ out with two TVs. Go check her out. Do your damn job, fool.
It seemed I had finally solved the mystery. It was just another case of corporate greed destroying the good fashion sense of a vast part of the world’s population. And isn’t that a sad commentary on our times.