The animal onesie: the fluffy scourge of Generation Y

Adults, myself included, are regressing to childhood - moving back in with their parents, job-hunting in between porn-viewing sessions and eating bowls of Frosties for dinner. Who could blame us?

Even as a ten-year-old, I couldn’t stand fancy dress. One World Book Day, where primary school children dress as their favourite literary characters, I loopholed my way out of wearing a humiliating Harry Potter costume by writing Ellie; a two-page semi-autobiographical novella. I went to school that day dressed as the book’s protagonist: me. The last Halloween costume I wore (2011) was similarly half-arsed. I scribbled the Euro symbol onto a white shirt in permanent marker and told everyone at the party I’d come as failing currency.

But grown-up fancy dress is no longer purely the stuff of stag nights and themed parties. It’s seeping into everyday life with the insidiousness of something truly sinister. I’m referring to the fluffy scourge of Generation Y; the animal onesie.

In recent years, my fellow twenty-somethings have taken to dressing as cuddly fauna. Pandas, giraffes, monkeys, foxes – one-piece suits shaped like all of these critters can be seen covering a young person near you. They wear them everywhere from parties to nights out, to lying comatose on the sofa in front of Deal or No Deal. So ubiquitous is the animal onesie that I wouldn’t look twice if I were stuck behind a human kangaroo at the Sainsbury’s checkout, or fighting for bar space with a set of badgers. In fact, I recently spent a train journey tightly engulfed by a sweaty-crotched tedium of humans dressed as the contents of London Zoo.

As a recent Time cover story reminded everyone, millennials are widely disliked by older generations. They call us lazy, they call us entitled, they call us mollycoddled. The animal onesie brazenly confirms that we are all of these things and more. From Thatcher to Britain’s Got Talent, a great number of socio-economic factors have paved the turd-strewn way for my generation. These various obstacles have resulted in what’s been referred to by many as prolonged adolescence. Adults, myself included, are moving back in with their parents, job-hunting in between porn-viewing sessions and eating bowls of Frosties for dinner. Who could blame us? The graduate job market looks like a recently-flushed toilet. (Yes, yes, I know, but at least if it were un-flushed there’d be something in it). And there’s one bear/rabbit/chicken-shaped item of clothing that so neatly encapsulates the pathos of the situation.

Wearers of animal onesies are resigning themselves to the overgrown child stereotype. This isn’t even prolonged adolescence; it’s prolonged infancy. When a person in his or her twenties puts on a rabbit costume, they’re saying: “I give up.” Nihilists with bunny ears are collectively curling into the foetal position and jamming their thumbs firmly into their mouths. No act could be more submissive, more docile, more supine.

Admittedly, I’ve flirted with the idea of buying an animal onesie myself. One afternoon in bed, my eyes glued to an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, while periodically shovelling Haribo Tangfastics down my throat, I thought to myself: “What could make this better?” My conclusion? Being dressed as a giraffe. As my cursor hovered over the “add to basket” icon of an online animal onesie shop, I had an epiphany. It was this: “Margolis, you suck.”

When I nearly bought that animal onesie, I was about to contribute to a generation-dooming stereotype. Not only this, but I also ventured dangerously close to the realm of kookiness. Kookiness – that self-conscious, wide-eyed, nail-biting effort to be “different” and, oh God I hate this word… “quirky”. This brand of cutesy, pseudo self-deprecating, supposed originality touted by the likes of zany (ugh) actress Zooey Deschanel is yet another element of the zeitgeist that badly needs exorcising.

Just consider this: animal onesies are the opposite of funny. They’re so unfunny, in fact, they make me want to stick kebab skewers in my ears. They’re malevolence with a bushy tail. And, for the love of all that’s holy, please stop taking pictures of people in them. They’re not “genius”, they’re grown-ups pretending to be hilarious squirrels in a land where you can pay off your mortgage in fondant fancies. Stop encouraging them.

But grown-up fancy dress is no longer purely the stuff of stag nights and themed parties. Photograph: Getty Images.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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