Time For Bathrobes

I pulled this article out of my files today and reread it. Perhaps I thought about this article now because I have been seeing my wife, who is recovering from surgery, in her bathrobe lately. I must have copied this article out of a magazine a few decades ago because I really liked it and, if you read it, you will see why. It is right up my lazy man alley. I am having trouble finding the author, Barbara Holland, to ask her for permission to include this article on my web site. I think she is living in a cabin in the back woods of Virginia (and probably in her bathrobe) and may not want to be found, but I’ve included her article here and this is her web site:

She has this web site but, when I requested permission to use this article, the email I sent to her was returned. I will have to continue looking for her. She is a well known author with many books and articles to her credit and here is the one I found twenty years ago that I particularly liked:

by Barbara Holland

I do my best thinking in a bathrobe. I’m ashamed of it, naturally, and if anyone catches me at it I fake a sneeze; when you’re sick you can wear a bathrobe. Otherwise you’re supposed to be dressed for action.

America has never been a nation of bathrobe wearers. Paul Revere, Annie Oakley and General Custer all slept with their boots on. We’re a frontier people and proud of it. Even now we feel we ought to be clothed to fight off Comanches at all times, and if the mailman catches us bathrobed we mumble and blush.

It has nothing to do with modesty, since a bathrobe covers us generously. It’s the shame of being thought inactive. Bathrobes, the cloth of sloth.

Everyone says we live in an age of increasing leisure, defined in the dictionary as the “state of having time which one can spend as one pleases.” But we shouldn’t please to sit around in a bathrobe. We should go skiing. We wouldn’t apologize to the meter reader if he caught us in our ski pants, but wearing a bathrobe isn’t a proper use of free time. To be decent, American leisure must be vigorous. If we were out jogging we’d be considered a useful member of society, but in a bathrobe we’re a leech, a slug, a parasite.

Bathrobes restrict activity. You can’t mow the lawn or do aerobics in them — that’s their charm and their shame. In the full-length female model you can’t even walk up the stairs without tripping, though most male bathrobes stop at the knee, no one knows why. Perhaps men are thought to have more need of their legs: if a fire starts, they can carry their swaddled wives to safety.

By limiting movement, the bathrobe releases the mind, like going into the lotus position but less painful. Enfolded in fabric, unable to bustle about, we can still read the Sunday paper, listen to music, sort old photographs or paint watercolors, absent-mindedly wiping the brush on our laps. We probably won’t muse over the budget deficit because you need proper clothes on to pay serious attention to current events. That’s why the Sunday paper should be read in a bathrobe; it softens the hard edge of happenings. We can contemplate the arms race and a recipe for asparagus souffle with equal detachment. Bathrobes encourage the long view and a sense of the durability of a civilization more likely to include souffles than the arms race.

The bathrobe keeps us home, excused from dealing with the world. Feet on the coffee table, we are draft exempt from the battles of business and daily life. “I’m not dressed,” we reply when people suggest that we drive them to the airport or put up the storm windows. Outside, time grinds through its endless events, large and small, but we can’t be expected to take part: we aren’t dressed.

The bathrobe keeps us gentle. It’s possible to sulk in a bathrobe, but not to rage. A furious person in a bathrobe would be a joke, commanding neither respect nor fear, and when we feel a fit of temper coming on we instinctively go put on street clothes in which to have it. Habitually bad-tempered people never wear bathrobes — in order to stay prepared. You can make love in a bathrobe, but not war. Statesmen should wear bathrobes at all times.

Statesmen are probably afraid of them, though. A lot of people are. They won’t admit it, but they think the bathrobe mindset, once yielded to, might weaken them forever. The soft folds, the easy sleeve, would soak through to the muscle and decay it. The taut bow of their determination would be quite unstrung. They would — perish the thought — relax, and this would be followed immediately by chronic unemployment and beer for breakfast.

You can tell bathrobe phobics because they never oversleep, and always dress and tie their shoes before they drink their coffee. They often say “I like to keep busy.” They say this whenever they see someone in a bathrobe.

Accomplishment means scurrying around with your shoes on. The prophets tell us about a future in which the modern executive will stay home and do it all by computer hookup, but I don’t believe it — the American people would never stand for it. I mean, what’s to stop him from getting through an entire day’s work in his bathrobe? What would Daniel Boone say?

A friend of mine has cleverly replaced her bathrobe with a sweat suit. She’s still lounging around over coffee at noon, but she doesn’t look it; she looks as if she got up at 5 to jog. People in real clothes see her and feel guilty, instead of asking scornfully if she’s sick. Still, a sweat suit just isn’t the same. It doesn’t impart the same peaceable viewpoint. Sweat suits are involved, bathrobes are detached.

Besides, you can go outside in a sweat suit, so it doesn’t get you out of doing things. True, I’ve driven people to trains in my bathrobe, but it isn’t decent and I always hoped the robe would pass for a coat. I tried to put a coat expression on my face instead of a bathrobe expression. The brisk, dressed expression.

Surely, surely, it’s time America packed in all this booted-and-spurred business, barging out to shoot buffalo or clean the gutters. Must we always stay dressed to chase cattle rustlers? Can’t we put on our bathrobes now?

Bathrobe wearers of the nation, stand tall. Open the door freely and proudly, even to your in-laws, and let them see what you’re wearing. The frontier is closed. It is time now for philosophy, for contemplation, for bathrobes.

Perhaps even for an afternoon nap.