Pantspantspantspantspantspantspants

My urbane husband arrived through the door in his London gent getup. The dog celebrated silently, his tail in overdrive, his musk reaching out to those he adores most in his doggy life.

“How was today?” he enquired, scanning my face for news.

There was only one word: indeed, has only been one word for it for some considerable time now. And I have to be infinitely grateful to a universe which has provided this word for my use; has embellished human life with the concept which leapt, unbidden, to my mind in word association so breathtakingly swift that the speed of sound might have sat up, shaken its head in muddled confusion and wondered what that thing was, that just dashed by.

My day was pants.

Transatlantic friends, do not assume I am talking about long well tailored trousers here. Because in this sceptered isle, pants are something altogether more earthy.

When I talk of pants, I mean: undies, the french slip, the boxer, the loincloth; drawers, briefs, shorts, skivvies; the layer which secures, protects, entices, repels, comforts and coddles.

The word, pants, carries 7,000 years of history with it. When I refer to my day being pants, I take you back to a leather pouch ripened by millennia. Archaeologists from theΒ Zhejiang province of China found overwhelming evidence that the people who lived there seven millennia ago wore loincloths which were threaded between the legs and wrapped round the waist.

And way back there also, you will find evidence of the cache-sexe: what a winning hyphenated term, describing a triangle of leather fortified with little strings. It is so comforting to know that Tutenkhamen was buried with several of these. They, too, describe my day rather well.

In the middle ages things got baggy round the edges, in the pant department as in everyday life; braies, they were called, those ill-defined unsupportive trouserlike thingies, into which you stepped and then tied lace around the waist.A satisfying metaphor, if a little uncomfortable in reality.

But into this ill-structured chaos, that piece of underwear drama, that enfant terrible of the pants world was born: the codpiece.

Beginning as a utilitarian flap, it was jolly useful when you were busting but didn’t want to leave court for too long. Untie a few laces and liberty could be yours.

It took the Big Guy of the renaissance, Bluff King Hal, to turn a convenient flap into an outrageous fashion accessory.

In his defence apocryphal tales talk of Henry VIII having some rather nasty diseases, and using his codpiece to stash bandages steeped in soothing remedies. That, say the kind, is why Henry’s codpieces got bigger and bigger, along with the rest of him.

Where the king goes all the fashionable must follow, and joke codpieces were the order of the day.

I’m not sure I could claim my day was like a joke codpiece. Would that it had been: would that it had been.

The Industrial Revolution brought many blessings and many curses: which was it, I wonder, blessing or curse, that underwear became a mass-produced item?

Little changed for a very long time. Take a look at this set of men’s pants from the nineteenth centuryΒ housed at the V&A: essentially, beautifully tailored braies with buttons where once a codpiece perched with a jaunty flourish. There were more of them; it might be ventured that they were better made, not being held ip by laces and all; but a pant is a pant is a pant, is it not?

Well: perhaps I am being a little sweeping. A tad unjust.

For the fabric of gentlemens’ pants (ankle length or mid-calf) and drawers (just below or above the knee) was changing. Now there was emphasis on fabrics which breathed: linen, cotton, merino: and for the wealthy, machined silk.

Comfort was coming to the fore. At last.

For let us not forget the miracle of Marks and Spencers.

Is there anything more all-enveloping than a really soft pair of Marks undies? Not the pretty kind, not the cache-sexe businesses, but the cotton mix cuddlies?

They are about as alluring as a mother superior; but they cosset the modern behind in a way the rest of history has utterly failed to do.

And so, when one uses pants as a metaphor to describe one’s day, perhaps we should see every day as a pants continuum.

There are some days which are smelly old leather 7,000 year old pants: and others which are fresh soft polyester cotton pants. Then again, perhaps you have had a machined silk pant kind of a day. Or even, dare I venture it, a PRADA pants day.

Whatever pant your day has been: I trust your evening will prove to be pure, unadulterated, comfort.

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56 thoughts on “Pantspantspantspantspantspantspants

  1. Well, my evening is just about over, Kate, but what a nice way to end. I usually don’t “pick you up” until my next day. I am not even going to ask what took you down the information stream of the history of pants! Very peculiar, but in the way that I most enjoy. I don’t know if you use the word quirky…but that’s one of my favorites. I haven’t had a Prada day, that’s for sure, but as it goes it wasn’t smelly old leather. And as I go to sleep I am going to pray that tomorrow is a soft polyester cotton pants day. That sounds more like what I need. I hope your day offers whatever you need, too! Debra

      1. I must laugh…I have been in a little funk myself…and I made an executive decision and called in “sick” today. I needed what I call my mental health days. Since I’m only working part-time anyway these days, this was really self-indulgent, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. Now I can hope for you that your day is not a “pants” day unless they are the really comfortable ones πŸ™‚

    1. As Lemony Snicket says, Jas: there is always something πŸ™‚ I am surrounded by the very best of material! My room is filled with reference books and my mind resembles Mr Magorium’s Emporium…

  2. The paragraph in reply to your husband’s question “How was today?” is a wonderful piece of word smithing. It’s the first thing that I have read this morning, and a smile is firmly planted on my lips presaging a day of cotton, or even silk, comfort.

  3. I am beginning to look foward to reading your blog first thing each morning – although I hasten to add i am so sorry you had a pants kind of day – being from the UK myself I understand totally what sort of day that was – your history lesson (although I knew it) was delivered in your usual erudite and entertaining way – how indeed do you keep it up every day but long may you continue:)

    1. Thank you, Alberta: I wish I had your gift for fiction but I seem stuck in the trivia groove! It is lovely to see you each morning. Forgive me if my visits to your blog are sparse right now: I expect to get some in-depth reading in as soon as the holidays kick in!

  4. Fortunately I’d read some Marian Keyes before I visited GB, otherwise I may have got into some strife, what with me saying pants and meaning trousers. I must say, as curses go, pants is very mild!

  5. Kate, you really are a star. I’m amazed at how you don’t roar and rave and rage; somehow you turn all the negative energy into humour and learning and sharing. You don’t have to do that, but I hope it helps.
    Also, make sure you roar and rage and rave any time you need to- if not here, then somewhere. x

  6. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just say, “No! Those are not the pants I want today! I want those over there instead.”

    I was once involved with a play where the men wore joke cod pieces. I don’t know how we ever got through it without laughing ourselves silly or being impaled by the things.

    Great story and great metaphor. May you wear the pants you love this day and in the days to come, Kate.

    1. I just remembered! I haven’t seen Dave Letterman’s show in some time, especially the end, but I used to love the silly bit at the very end where they would show the “Worldwide Pants” logo and the announcer would bellow simply, “Pants!”

      Simpatico…

  7. This is the first I’d read of the history of the exaggerated codpiece. OF COURSE it was for medicinal purposes. That makes so much sense, given the King’s exploits.

    Rarely have I found underwear so historically entertaining. Thanks for that!

  8. There is nothing quite so comforting/irritating as the right/wrong cut and texture of pants… (and I think that’s true for both your and my interpretation of the P word). BTW, brilliant, this:

    …the concept which leapt, unbidden, to my mind in word association so breathtakingly swift that the speed of sound might have sat up, shaken its head in muddled confusion and wondered what that thing was, that just dashed by.

  9. Dear Kate, . . . not smelly old leather. No way! Yesterday and today both seem to fill me with energy for making decisions and embracing the place where I now live and making plans for integrating myself into this community. A long time a coming but such a comfortable cotton pants–or briefs as we say here. Peace.

  10. Thank you so much for tracing the history of pants for us all, fascinating but slightly disturbing at times. Other English language countries really miss out on the word ‘pants’, I’m sure. Cotton comfort is definitely the way to go however whatever fashion or history may otherwise prefer. πŸ˜‰

  11. Kate, pants seem to be cropping up everywhere lately!
    I wouldn’t say I’ve had a pants day, being honest. But being stuck inside a hot office on a nice warm day could be described as a codpiece kind of day. You know, hot and sw… I’m sure you catch my drift. Not very comfortable.
    Hope you’ve had a better day today – and once again, a great post! πŸ™‚

  12. Feeling a bit self conscious about my knickers having read that but ah yes, comfort. I do understand the concept. For me, my greatest comfort now comes in shoes – boiled wool slippers that I adore and perhaps worthy of a blogpost.

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