Soft Clothes

Back in the eighties someone coined the term ‘cocooning’ to describe the activity and mindset of locking away the world. From columnist George Will, ca 1987:

“… the harassments of daily life — looming nuclear incineration, rude waiters — have driven people to ”cocooning.” They have gone to ground in their dens with their VCRs and compact-disc players, snug in their Barcaloungers equipped with stereo headphones, the better to keep at bay the modern world, the discontinuities of which have produced a longing for tradition.”

Generations ago folks sat on their front porches and waved at the neighbors. Now entire subdivisions are built without front porches, instead just a few steps to the front door set in the brick surround. Not being a sociologist, I can only speculate about how life has maybe gotten harder, more complicated, busier even in an age of labor-saving devices and 24-hour convenience. Now when folks get home, they want to be home, safe in that familiar cocoon where the only rules are of their own making.

Enter soft clothes.

A client called me wanting to know if I could meet and look at an issue. As we talked, he suddenly stopped and said “Wait, you’re in your flannels, aren’t you?” It wasn’t an accusation but a fair assessment that I was behind my fortress door, done being out in the world for the day, safely wrapped in my most comfortable clothes. Because he understood, I had no need to justify my reluctance to head back out and he let me off the hook with a “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” Probably because he wanted to bar the door and slip on his own flannels.

He called them “flannels”, others call them bulky clothes, some strip down to their boxer shorts, others slip on their favorite PJs, still others wrap themselves in their beloved blanket. We all have them, that set of clothes that lets us know we are safe and comfortable and loved (at least by us). A t-shirt that is just a little too big, an outrageous pair of fleece bottoms, my wife’s ever-faithful and always-present Navy hoodie. We started calling them “soft clothes” at our house when a character on a TV series told her husband over the phone she had “already changed to her soft clothes” and did not want to go out. Now it’s almost a contest to see who can proclaim “soft clothes” first and we both understand the implication – this day is done, I’m through fighting with the world, I’m not going to the store (although from the looks of some at Wal-Mart they lost that battle and headed out for milk in their soft clothes – but soft clothes are for home, people!) and I likely won’t even answer the door if someone knocks.

The danger with cocooning and soft clothes is we succumb to the temptation to withdraw from the world too easily. I’m probably speaking for a lot of us when I say we make plans that we wish we hadn’t, that we agree to go somewhere and don’t want to when the time comes, that we really don’t want to give up our comfort and privacy and emotional security for a little fun.

Last night was a good example. My wife and I had invited our good friends Dale and Sharon over for some grilled chicken and adult beverages. We spent the day doing yardwork and otherwise getting ready, preparing food, even taking a nap to be spry for the evening. And in the back of my mind there was that nagging I-just-want-to-wrap-up-in-something-and-hide-in-my-house-and-not-talk-to-anyone thing creeping in. Which would have been a shame to give in to as we spent nearly six hours having a grand time around the fire eating, drinking, laughing-out-loud, telling stories, sharing our lives and adventures and hopes and dreams. I think it’s safe to say that all four of us had a wonderful time and our lives were enriched by the experience while our relationship was taken a little deeper. But no sooner had the evening wound down and they headed home, well, you know what came next.

Soft clothes. And I bet they went home and did the same.

All that work yesterday caused my shoulder tendonitis to flare up. Bad. So I’m writing this with an arm sling on for some relief. And I’m sitting here in my loosest t-shirt, orange in color, and a pair of camouflaged fleece pants – an outfit I would never wear up to the ‘Mart. Today my door stays shut, even though it’s beautiful outside, today I’m in my cocoon. Today I’ll never change out of soft clothes, but for the right reasons: healing & comfort.

I encourage everyone to be comfortable, to enjoy your private time, to be secure and safe in your own home. Just don’t be too quick to lock the door and “go soft.”

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