Once reserved for toddlers and ice fishermen, union suits and footed pajamas have become a sought after holiday gift for the cocooners, nostalgists, and hipsters among us. Their utility and comfort make oversize onesies appealing for couch potatoes and models alike.
While the snuggly suits have been around for decades, Steve Pandi is credited with kickstarting the adult footed pajama craze back in 1998. What started as a cheeky costume for Pandi’s band became a business of its own when he launched Jumpin Jammerz and began shipping modest orders to a few customers a week. Then, years later, actor Ryan Gosling talked up the brand on “Ellen,” and Jumpin Jammerz zipped into the collective consciousness.
“It starts here. It’s a movement — it’s a Jumpin Jammerz movement,” Gosling said in 2011.
The actor’s quip was a “nuclear explosion for the product,” said Tom Pandi, Steve’s brother and a Jammerz executive.
Wittier than a Snuggie, more functional than a Slanket, the adult onesie went viral, and soon retailers from Target and Walmart to Walgreens and Kmart began selling them. This season, you can’t enter a mall without seeing rack after rack of Pokemon, Chewbacca, Minion, or Care Bear union suits for adults.
“Once it hits Target you know you’ve got that mainstream appeal,” said Ani Collum, a partner at the Norwell-based consulting group Retail Concepts. “It’s got that blend of pop culture and childhood nostalgia that really works.”
Though they come in various designs and colors, some of the most popular onesies are made to look like animals or comic book characters — inviting comparisons to anime communities and furry culture. But experts say there’s a big difference between cuddling up in an owl-themed outfit and developing a “fursona.”
“People probably just think [one-piece suits are] cute and they want one,” Kathy Gerbasi, social psychologist and professor at Niagara County Community College in New York, said of the pajamas.
Gerbasi is part of a team studying the furry community, a group that creates anthropomorphized animal characters and costumes for themselves and then interacts as those animals. She said that for furry enthusiasts, the intent is not simply to put on a suit but rather embody the personality of the animal or character they’ve developed.
That’s a long way from curling up in front of “Westworld” in a leopard print PJ jumpsuit from Forever 21.
Duncan Browne, chief operating officer at Newbury Comics, said the onesie trend has really taken off among adults and children engaged in every fandom — from sports teams to “Star Wars” and Harry Potter.
“It’s definitely a phenomenon,” Browne said. “We’ve been selling them for a number of years, but this year, the category is definitely exploding more.”
Though the popular look is a fleecy, sleepwear style, some companies are trying to get onesie wearers off the couch and into the outside world.
Norwegian company Onepiece aims to take the style from “couch to club.” Onepiece started producing its jumpsuits to protect people from the blistering Arctic cold back in 2009 and the trend quickly spread across Europe before making the jump to the US in 2014. Since opening its store in LA, Onepiece has graced the Instagram accounts of celebrities such as Serena Williams, Kylie Jenner, and Jamie Foxx, and its suits can be picked up in Bloomingdale’s.
“It’s a one-and-done outfit” for celebs, said Robb Lazenby, chief operating officer of Onepiece. It’s for the “moments in between the moments” when models are getting ready for the runway, musicians are on tour buses, or movie stars are getting off a plane.
Pandi said he thinks the trend is much more than a quirky, tongue-in-cheek holiday gift or a celebrity-driven social media craze. He said it’s a crossover product that connects deeply with consumers of all ages.
“Everyone older wants to be younger and anyone younger wants to be older,” Pandi said. “The product is just wacky and silly and nostalgic and people love it. It’s been amazing and it just doesn’t slow down.”
Carly Sitrin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.