Arguably the best thing that happened during the Obamas’ visit to England last week was the meeting between the president and two-year-old Prince George. The tiny royal, who had been allowed to stay up past his bedtime in order to meet Mr. and Mrs. Obama, shook hands with the leader of the free world—in his nightclothes. Moments after the photos of their meeting appeared online, the bathrobe Prince George had been wearing sold out in stores. It can’t be denied that the bathrobe was adorable. But what toddler, in this day and age, wears a bathrobe?
I can’t help but imagine those many bathrobes languishing in the closets and dresser drawers of children across the Western world in the weeks to come. So why did their parents buy them? Was it just to take one adorable photo to post on social media with a jokey caption declaring that now their Johnny was also ready to meet the president? Or was it something else? Something that had to do with seeing that little boy with his hair neatly combed and his pajamas neatly pressed that set off a yearning in the hearts of parents everywhere to return to the kind of lifestyle that Will and Kate represent?
While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are refreshingly modern by royal standards, they are still quite old-fashioned by today’s parenting standards. In fact, they are very publicly living a life more commonly associated with the 1950s, with all the wholesomeness and family values that entails. Kate is essentially a stay-at-home mom. She is always impeccably dressed. Her children are neat and well-behaved. Their household runs like clockwork. And William is unequivocally the head of the family.
But does this really appeal to us? Aren’t we supposed to want something else, to “have it all?” Women should be able to maintain their careers and their homes without giving anything up. Men should take on an equal share of the housework and childcare. This is what we should want. But that little bathrobe suggests otherwise.
When we see that little boy, looking like Michael Darling from Peter Pan, something pulls at our heartstrings. We want our children to look like that too. Not just to be adorable—although that’s part of it—but to embody that lifestyle. That’s a little boy who knows how to shake hands. He’ll look you in the eye and say “How do you do?” He’ll go straight to bed when he’s told and he’ll do it with a smile and a kiss.
Of course, Will and Kate (and little George and his sister Charlotte) are royalty. And that adds to their appeal. It makes the life they live glamorous and aspirational. It filters out impediments to the 1950s lifestyle, like the difficulties of raising a family on one income or the drudgery of housework. But what we are left with is a glittering nugget of truth; the essence of the thing, rather than the details.
That bathrobe is a whimsical nod to a lifestyle we women have said we don’t want, one we’ve gleefully cast aside in order to pursue our careers, burn our bras, and order take-out instead of slaving away in the kitchen. But that bathrobe. We bought that bathrobe. And even though it will live in the back of the closet, we won’t throw it out. Because, we’ll tell ourselves, he might wear it one day. And, you never know, he just might.