Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One is the loneliest number

So if one is loneliest number - is that why pants are pairs? No, Three Dog Night fans. So why are pants pairs and a shirt just a shirt? If you were thinking pants have two legs - wrong. Shirts have two arms and still - just a shirt. And now the history of pants - everything you ever wanted to know about the nether coverings - and yes the answer to why pants are pairs.

Around 1760 men began to wear breeches. These gents, were a tight garment worn from the waist to the knee with stockings covering the rest of the leg. Picture yourself in that delightful garment. Breeches eventually evolved ( like the English language always does) into britches. Before the breeches or britches you guys wore skirts and dresses. ( OK kilts and caftans but does it really matter what you call them your legs were hanging out)

Pantaloons ( which the word pants come from) were made popular in 1812 by George Bryan "Beau " Brummell. He added a foot strap to keep his pants tight and avoid wrinkles.Beau Brummel was the male fashion icon of his time. He gave fashion tips ( even to the king) and stressed cleanliness. I know stressing cleanliness seems strange but that really wasn't much of a priority then and people had some strange ideas about baths causing colds and illnesses. Think of how it must of smelled at those big social gatherings. Icky. Aren't you glad you live in this century?

In 1789 the French revolution was not just a political revolt but a fashion revolt. Breeches were too upper class - so enter the trouser. The country French peasants wore looser fitting garment called trousers meaning drawers. With the revolution came trousers for every man. ( nope ladies we were still in stays and hoops).

Sir Harry Lumsden was commanding the English troops in Punjab, India in 1846. The English troops wore bright white pants and red wool jackets ( think the movie Zulu and Michael Caine). Well, good old Harry was pretty darn hot in India being from England and all - so he trades in his bright white pants for p.j.s . Yes, Sir Harry wore pajama bottoms. To disguise the fact that he was wearing p.j.s - Harry dyed them with a native plant - mazari. The color of the p.js was now the color of dust which the Hindu word for dust is khaki. Thus the birth of the khaki. So now guys - when you wear your khaki's - thank Sir Harry and his p.j.s.

Well, we Americans , not to be outdone, liked those khakis. They became the standard for the military in WWII. So while stationed in the Pacific khakis were duplicated ( for less) in China. That's how we got chinos. So I guess it started with khaki knock-offs and now we have Chinese knock-offs of everything. Who knew khakis would start the whole sending manufacturing off to China?

So ladies - here come the bloomers. Elizabeth Smith Miller invented pants for ladies. Can you imagine the scandal? The pants consisted of a skirt with baggy trousers underneath that gathered at the ankle. So Amelia Jenks Bloomer of Homer, New York takes a look at those and decides to be rebel and wear them int he 1850's. The bicycle craze and the suffragettes embraced the bloomers and there you go. Somehow bloomers sound better than millers ?

In the 1890's Oscar Wilde tried to reintroduce breeches. Thank goodness the man could write because he did not succeed at fashion trends. So over the years pant legs got wider then smaller with each generation of rebellious youth. Think Zoot suits and bell bottoms.

And then good old American advertising introduced pants to be worn between work and sports. The pant was called a "slack" for your slack time. So slacks were invented by Haggar and the folks in the advertising department. Amazing to think Santa Claus and slacks - advertising that stuck.

And that leaves us with the American icon of pants. Let me give you some hints and see if you know what pant this I'm talking about. James Dean wore them in the 1955 movie "Rebel Without A Cause ". American teenagers decided to join the rebellion and rushed to buy these pants. In 1853 in San Francisco Loeb Strauss from Bavaria sold these pants to miners. Regular pants weren't strong enough for the rigors of mining - so he invented these. ( I know hard to believe Mr. Straus and Nancy Pelosi from the same place - one creates something you wear and one wears on you). In 1873 Strauss meets Jacob Davis the inventor of the rivet. And together they created a pant with rivets on the stress points of the pants. Have you guessed? Loeb changed his name to Levi and this is story of the blue jean.

And now the answer to the question why are pants pairs but a shirt just a shirt? If you said because there are two legs - wrong! After all shirts have two arms - so why ? You know how English has the little quirks like i before e etc. - this is one. In English there is a class of objects that are thought to consist of two independent but connected parts, usually identical or similar to each other. So not only are pants and trousers pairs, but there are eyeglasses, scissors,pliers, earrings, and tweezers. These objects are always in the plural form and the usage of a plural form goes all the way back 1297 AD. (of course back then it was a pair of hose or "a peire of hosen"). The implication is that these two parts are separable. So trousers are pairs but a shirt is solo because it covered the entire torso. At one time compass and nutcracker was referred to as a pair ( can you imagine asking for a pair of nutcracker - some many quips running through my mind on that one - but this is G-rated column). That folks is why pants, trousers, slacks and jeans are a pair. I know panties and undies have no legs but they are pairs too. Mainly that is just an extension of the pant pair rule.

And for those of you wondering if I just made this stuff up - the answer is - I wish I were so imaginative. I actually had some help .The history of pants came from Andy Gilchrist's "The Complete Contents of A Man's Life." Cecil Adams from "The Chicago Reader" is my source for the evolution of the English language. If you are interested in more weird facts ( and I know some you are) I recommend reading Cecil Adams' column "The Straight Dope".

So, I have been writing this blog for about six months. I decided this month to give those of you who have been reading a gift. I figure if you are willing to sit at your computer reading my rants on care labels and clothes - you ought to get some thing more than just a giggle ( I am hoping you did giggle, chuckle or at the very least groan). So this is for you - if you come in any Cowboy Cleaners before July 4 - I will clean a pair of pants for you for free. I mean since you are now a pants historian and know that a pair of pants is really just one - you should be rewarded for being so smart. So come in - say I read Vicky's blog - and I'll clean your pair of pants for FREE.
Those of you who are thinking " I'm getting something for nothing?" - no you're not - you had to read all this to get your gift. Some are saying " but I like reading this"( yeah!!! and thanks) and others are saying " Torture - this blog is torture" ( you will still get the free cleaning and the torture). But this is my way of saying thanks for reading and to quote "Three Dog Night" - "Celebrate".