By Nicole Dieker
So here’s how it happened.
I mean, that’s not really how it happened. You could say it happened because five days before that tweet, I went to a party and saw a friend dressed as a giant fleece dinosaur. A green fleece dinosaur, with yellow spikes. And she looked so cool.
(I mean, so warm. But also: so cool.)
And I was cold. It’s been a cold and dry winter, and by then my arms and hands had crackled into a dry red rash.
So I bought mine, and then two of my friends bought kigurumi immediately after I did, and when I asked, online, who in my friend group had passed the idea to whom, the way the dinosaur passed to me and I passed it to the fox and the corgi, but the fox had also wanted one after he saw the hedgehog, who was inspired to buy one after seeing the owl, who was inspired by yet another friend, and so on—I mean, why do we do the things that our friends do, anyway?
Why did this idea spread, and not another one? Why the kigurumi, and not, say, the Forever Lazy? Why weren’t we all inspired to go out and buy really nice shoes?
The first time I saw a kigurumi was in 2012, at the California Extreme convention. I forget when I started to see them everywhere.
They are not particularly ideal garments. They—well, shall we just say that they don’t get washed all that often, and that sometimes you can tell that they aren’t washed all that often? I find coffee stains on mine, and I take a wet rag and some soap and scrub them out, but this thing is going through the laundry slightly less often than my sheets and slightly more often than my bras.
(That’d be every three weeks, for people keeping track. Sheets are every two, and bras are whenever I remember that bras are supposed to be washed.)
It’s difficult to use the toilet in a kigurumi, not in the least because you have to figure out how to keep the hood and tail bits from dragging on the floor immediately in front of the toilet, which—even when regularly scrubbed—is not the place on which you’d like to rub your favorite fleece outfit before putting the fleece back on your head.
Of course, because kigurumi have both a dropped crotch and dropped armpits, they don’t collect a lot of body odor. This is a plus, because you tend not to wash yourself before climbing into your kigurumi either. It’s a “spend the entire day watching Netflix” outfit, the sort of thing you wear as a transitional stage between “bed” and “clothes.”
(In fact, it’s kind of like getting out of bed and taking the bed with you.)
I didn’t understand, until I owned one, what the draw was. I didn’t get that it was kind of like finally getting to wear the futuristic jumpsuit that we know, someday, will be our due: perfectly comfortable, non-constricting, providing complete ease of movement. Of course future people would want to wear these while they were out doing space things. Of course I’d want to wear mine all day long.
Plus it’s also shaped like both a blanket and a stuffed animal, and you get to choose your animal. We are the generation of online quizzes, the MBTI result in the dating profile, House Stark and House Ravenclaw—and I will never forgive Pottermore for putting me in Slytherin.
You see people you know pick dinosaurs and corgis and foxes and penguins and you think oh, yeah, I see you now. I almost bought a My Melody kigurumi because I liked the color, but I am not a My Melody. Nor am I a snake, thank-you-very-much Pottermore, I’m the cheerful and high-strung blue owl downing a cup of coffee as he races to start Disney’s Sing Along Songs.
So you get to pick your thing, the perpetual enjoyment of the picking of the thing, and then you get to swap pics with all your friends.
My sister said “you bought a janimal?!” and sent me a link to J-Animals, the “Americanized” version of kigurumi:
And you do sort of have to bring up the specter of cultural appropriation at some point; the Japanese word kigurumi originally referred to a type of performer who dressed in an animal costume, not the costume itself, and I know about as much of the kigurumi’s origins and history as the sentence I just typed.
And now, look, the white kids have gotten ahold of it. Yay.
Like a lot of us, I got my kigurumi from Kigurumi Shop, the LA-based retailer that sells kigurumi made by Japanese manufacturer Sazac. As of this writing, Kigurumi Shop has 129 pages of user-submitted kigurumi selfies on its Tumblr. The vast majority of kigurumi wearers who sent in images are female, and yes, many are white—at about a 3 to 1 ratio—but it’s clear from these images that the animal onesie is for everybody, or at least anybody who wants one.
There are also a lot of group selfies on that Tumblr. Animals side by side, signifying their solidarity and their individuality. It is the archetypal image of the group of friends, at least going back as far as the images we grew up with, like Sailor Moon (another appropriation): everyone the same and different; belonging by uniform and unique by character.
My rash cleared up almost immediately after I started wearing the kigurumi continually. I know it’s not because of the kigurumi—I could probably have gotten the same effect with a Wild Side Snuggie—but skin behaves differently when it is warm.
But that’s still not why I bought it. Not precisely.
Are all the awkward teenagers and geeky adults who are obsessed by the idea of basically dressing up like stuffed animals actually attempting to make themselves less scary to get the love and care they need and want? Or maybe attempting to make the world less of a place where they are rejected and terrified and alone?
—Lizzy Acker, KQED Arts
When you spend a lot of your time on Twitter, disconnected and connected simultaneously to your favorite people, you find ways of, as my crew calls it, “doing a friendship.”
Sometimes doing a friendship means dropping $60 on a fleece onesie that seems like a strange thing for an adult to wear. I mean, yes, the kigurumi is comfortable and adorable but it’s also, you know, we could have all bought robes or something. It didn’t have to be the kigu.
(At one point we did all talk about buying robes, so that the next time we were all in the same place we could wear our robes.)
There’s so much that’s been said about the rise of the self-selected family, the group of friends who are like the friends on Friends, but not so much that’s been said about what happens when that family disperses just like a real one does. The way that adulthood is structured today, with independence and personal agency deferred by a decade, you often don’t begin to know where you belong and who your true people are until you’re in your 30s. By then, you all live in different places.
So you figure out whom you want to stay close to, and how to do it. You figure out not only how to do a friendship, but how to craft one with the tools you have available.
Someday we might be all in the same room, in our kigurumi, together.
Until then, we’ll find other ways of being friends.