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 the 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 century 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.