House clothes (noun): a set of clothing only worn indoors
Growing up, it was always standard practice — a habit passed down to me from my Filipino matriarch. It’s a common convention in many Asian households. (And many other immigrant cultures!) There are clothes for outside and there are clothes for inside.
To oversimplify them, they’re kind of like pajamas. They’re comfortable and usually ugly beyond belief: a shirt you got from the bank, flannel pants with a reindeer print. You’d wear them around for the rest of the night. I then usually change into pajamas after an evening shower to ensure that only a clean body is getting into my bed.
The idea behind house clothes is this: outdoor clothes get dirty, and you don’t want them on or in your “clean spaces.” These spaces include the family couch, carpeted areas, upholstered surfaces, and, of course, your bed. When talking to a Chinese-American friend, she said, "I don't think I was even allowed on the couch with outside clothes on!"
If you’ve noticed a parallel here to removing your shoes indoors — top marks. It follows the same train of thought. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal allowed a writer to publish a story about how they will not be removing their shoes, no matter if you enforce such rules in your household. The excerpt of the article read, “Why are you assuming that your guests’ shoes are dirtier than your floors?” I know that was rhetorical, but the simple answer is: because they are. Outside is where the rats is.
In response to the story, the internet was split down the middle, like a buttcrack, as it always is. In the camp of pro-shoe removal were science and Asians.
Even if you aren’t concerned about germs you encounter by sitting on a subway bench that someone has certainly relieved themselves on, maybe I could sell you on the comfort factor. Now that I work from home, this is less of an issue, but whew, doggy! Did I use to be a sharp dresser. I’d spent the whole day dressed in some sort of elaborate costume. Sometimes that was a very tight shirt, an itchy wool blend, or shoes that pressed my toes into the shape of an almond. Other times, it was a lime green blazer that I accidentally wore the week Joker was released. Other other times, it was all of them at once.
And as much as I enjoyed looking the part of an eccentric, there’s nothing I looked forward to more than walking through my front door and immediately taking it all off. Off with the jeans I couldn’t bend my knees in. Off with the starchy collared shirt. Off with my BaubleBar rings. Compression socks, pleather pants, licensed Goosebumps memorabilia: off, off, off. Sometimes I’d even unbutton my pants on the second landing on the way up to my top-floor apartment. I’d then call upon whatever house clothes are reporting for their two-day shift. A cotton t-shirt, several sizes too large. Slutty little gym shorts. 9% spandex boxers. Figure-demolishing and perfect in every way.
Still not sold? Let me approach this a different way. You know how you’re not supposed to work from bed? It blurs, if not removes, the boundaries between spaces that are supposed to be productive and spaces that are supposed to be relaxing. I can sort of warp that logic to apply here. Having clothes that I only wear inside signals to my Pavlovian instincts that I am no longer in work mode. I am in a pristine territory. I am more myself in my house clothes than I am in any other garment.
My mom has passed many of the idiosyncrasies of her culture down to me. I won’t set my bag on the ground (bad luck), I jump up and down on New Year’s Eve (good luck), and I change into house clothes the instant I arrive home. One day, if the day ever comes, I’ll pass them down to my children, too.
in Real Life, AAPI