Tuesday, May 5, 2020
J. Crew catches fire.
Maybe it was all the surgery—spine in summer, hip just before New Year's. Maybe it was just the time of life. A young man can sleep in his skivvies. An old man needs pajamas. Anyway, sometime in the fall my wife, who has good instincts about this kind of thing, ordered for me an attractive blue cotton pair of J. Crew pajamas. So light and comfortable I ordered a second pair in January. That way, I'd have two.
Okay, not quite the life-long attachment of a Marshall Field's. But enough that when J. Crew declared bankruptcy on Monday, trying to deal with its $1.65 billion debt by shutting its nearly 500 stores, I thought sadly, "Oh gee. I like those pajamas...."
That wasn't why I snapped the above picture back in January. It was that tag urging, in bold red, "KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE."
There had to be a story there. I figured it had to be the sleepwear aspect and plunged into the arcane world of consumer safety. It was educational. The concern over burning pajamas is mostly related to children—that's why children tend to have form-fitting PJs, and not baggy ones like mine, so they'll set themselves on fire with less alacrity. Fire retardants were added, but they bring up an entire new set of concerns regarding cancer risk.
I got about that far, then was sidetracked by the issue of Jarts—lawn darts. I remember them well from my Ohio youth in the 1960s. Remember watching the neighbor kids fling them about and thinking, "Those look dangerous..." What I figured out at 9 eventually dawned on adults. Lawn darts were initially banned in 1970 by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, but the companies producing them sued, and the things were winked at until 1988, when David Snow, the grieving father of Michelle Snow, a 7-year-old who died after a lawn dart thrown by her brother hit her in the head the year before, lit a fire under lawmakers. Sometimes all it takes is one grieving parent, at least when the topic is not guns.
Speaking of which. When the lawn dart ban came up for renewal in 1997, a number of people wondered: why are lawn darts banned after a handful of deaths (and thousands of injuries) while handguns are sold so freely? Good question; the answer has to do with soothing your fears with weaponry.
Thus the pajama thread was completely lost. I let the matter drop until J. Crew went up like the Hindenburg, the first major retailer to collapse in our COVID-19 world, but most assuredly not the last. Sears, J.C. Penney's, the list of brown leaves quivering on the branch is long.
I have to say, wearing pajamas still doesn't feel completely natural. I'll do it for a few days, then forget for a month, reverting to form. Maybe I'm not quite old enough yet. But that's coming.
In the meantime, the label is a handy reminder. These warning labels, needless to say, were fought by industry, though studies show that consumers don't seem to mind them, and almost a quarter said they would be more inclined to purchase clothing with such labels. Myself, I find the labels sort of cool, not to mention inspirational. I've interviewed several people who were badly burned, and they were surprisingly happy, just to be alive, and forgave themselves for the series of missteps typically required to set yourself on fire. I figure, if those people, having done that to themselves, can be happy and accepting of their lot, our doing the same for our unburnt state should be a piece of cake.