Onesie is the loneliest number*

This afternoon I visited a friend of mine who has just had a baby. With big puffy cheeks and an itty bitty nose, little ‘M’ is cuter than cute; you can’t help but smile when you look at her.

Like so many other Australian newborns, ‘M’ was wearing a Bonds wondersuit. Her mother extolled the virtues of the all-in-one and we agreed it was the perfect outfit for newborn bubs.

Let me just repeat that: all-in-ones are perfect for newborn babies.

On the other hand, what’s with all-in-ones for adults???

I like to think I’m pretty hip and down with the latest trends. Even if I don’t participate, I like to think I understand them. But I’m struggling with the onesie phenomenon.

I’d heard about onesies being worn by young celebrities and knew they were out there. I didn’t take it particularly seriously, though. Despite the local shopping centre’s Two Dollar shop stocking a rack of animal onesies, I hadn’t actually ever seen an adult wearing one during the day or in the evening. Surely, it can’t be that popular a fad, I reasoned.

Then a few days ago I saw a fully grown woman walking down one of the main roads of my suburb in a leopard onesie. In broad daylight. With other people around.

She would’ve been around 20 years old. She was slightly overweight, her shoulders were stooped, she had a backpack on and she was very focussed on the footpath in front of her, not really looking up at all. Maybe that was because of low self esteem; she certainly didn’t come across as an individual full of confidence. Or maybe she just didn’t want to see the expressions on the faces of the people who were looking at her, because if everyone reacted like I did (mouth open, staring wide eyed), it would be a bit disconcerting, I’m sure.
adults in different animal all in one costumes with banner that reads "Pants suck. Get a onesie."A few weeks ago, there was an article in The Age that suggested that the animal onesie phenomenon was basically Generation Y’s cry for help. An ironic statement of the frustration felt by 20 year olds who can’t afford to move out of home and be an adult and are thus choosing to wear outfits that, as I’ve said above, are really the domain of the baby.

I get that, but I can’t help think the animal onesie is about far more. I agree for a handful, it’s an ironic statement. I can also imagine that for those young girls who wear onesies with high heels to nightclubs or parties, it’s another manifestation of the sexualisation of childhood and – in reverse – the infantilisation of adult women’s sexuality.

In the Daily Telegraph’s “Crime or Cool?” review (for God’s sake, “crime!!!!”), the ‘yes’ argument is that it’s a playful fashion item. In other words, an extreme variation of dressing up as the sexy school girl, or the sexy little playbunny. (By the way, it’s worth reading the ‘no’ argument by Kerry Parnell, which more or less sums up my feelings.)

Then there is the girl walking down the main street of an ordinary Melbourne suburb dressed like a leopard, with her shoulders stooped and her head down, unable to meet the gaze of the other people on the street. I can’t help but think that for her, and young people like her, the animal onesie is an expression of her complete and total divorce from the reality of life around her. If you don’t fit in with society and it refuses to accept you as you are, forget wearing your feelings on your sleeve. With the animal onesie you can wear a whole outfit that expresses your feelings and allows you to retreat from the society that you don’t feel a part of.

These young adults turn society’s rejection on its head. After all, you can’t be hurt by something you’ve rejected, or so we like to think. “I’m a leopard!” these outfits seem to scream. “I belong somewhere far more exotic where people appreciate me! I know I don’t belong here and you can’t hurt me!”

On the one hand, you could see it as being about empowerment and taking control. On the other hand, I find it incredibly sad that you could feel so rejected as a young adult that you would retreat so dramatically from reality as to wear a child’s animal outfit out in public.

Having said that, it’s not all bad news. In my day, you wouldn’t be caught dead in an animal onesie in public (unless you were on your way to a fancy dress party). You would’ve been ridiculed at best, violently abused at worst.

It says a lot about the tolerant nature of today’s society that the animal onesie generation feels comfortable enough to walk around like that in broad daylight. We may stare wide eyed and open mouthed, but perhaps we’re a far more accepting lot after all.

* With apologies to Harry Nilsson.

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