It’s the year 2019. We have the kind of technology that can give anyone — up to and including the thickest kid at your son or daughter’s preschool — a vast array of god-like powers. Our species has come a long way from the caves we once called home.
And yet: we still wear pants.
When it comes to aesthetics, I’ll be the first to admit that the human body is one of the least appealing specimens in the animal kingdom. Our fur has retreated into a select few tactical zones, leaving most of our bulgy bits, sinewy stretches and saggy slabs indecently exposed.
And our legs are one of the least attractive appendages of our sorry bodies. From top to bottom, the leg is a ghastly arrangement of knobbly knees, bony ankles, splayed feet and offensive toes, all of it criss-crossed by tanlines and coated in irregular patches of thin hair.
Everyone has weird legs. In my case, my calf and thigh muscles are disproportionately large compared to the rest of my body, so when I walk around in shorts it looks like I have stolen the legs of a much larger man.
So I understand the impulse to hide them away from the world. But legs were never made to be pretty — they are utilitarian champions capable of some pretty impressive feats. Take lunging, for example. Or the splits. Jumping! Running is fun in moderation and useful in a pinch. For chrissakes, our ugly legs allow most of us to walk upright for the majority of our 70 or 80 years on the planet — that is no small feat.
So why — why?! — must we reward our ugly-yet-valuable legs by shutting them away from one another, alone in the dark and stiflingly constricted in a pair of pants?
Who among us actually enjoys putting on a pair of jeans in the morning? I don’t think I know a single person who can honestly say that they do. Sure, the ritual might instill a sense of readiness for the day, a business-like preparedness for the waiting world outside. But that’s a mental construct, a mindset. The actual physical sensation of putting on a pair of jeans — tough, scratchy, constricting — is objectively terrible.
In this regard, men have a reprieve in that Fashion allows us to get away with a looser fit. But it also offers us no real alternative. And the fact that men must wear a piece of clothing that places the crucial hinge point of all leg-based movement in a certain area between the thighs and several inches below the belly button is an abomination. Pants plunge upward at a man’s perineum with uncompromising directness, a sort of willful ignorance of his actual anatomy. There is something puritanical about it — we are embarrassed by our willies, and we therefore design clothes that deny their existence.
Eventually, once you’ve had enough of trying to walk in these lower-body straitjackets, you decide to sit down for a rest — only to find that this is even worse. Next time you’re sitting in a pair of pants, pay attention to your lower half. You’ve probably grown accustomed to it over your lifetime but your legs, your butt and your genitalia are being squeezed and pinched in all sorts of agonising ways.
It was never meant to be this way. Long before China’s Xinjiang province became the kind of sci-fi dystopia Black Mirror writers would have canned for being “too over the top,” it was the first place where humans are known to have worn trousers. They were invented for horseback riding, and spread as functional attire for the equestrian peoples of the Central Asian steppe.
When the cloaked and robed ancient Greeks first encountered pants, they rightly found them ridiculous. And while pants did catch on in the Middle East, they sensibly stuck with baggier, more comfortable styles that left plenty of breathing room.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, tight pants took off. This is not surprising, as nobody in Europe had a single good idea for the entire thousand-year medieval period. (Decades-long wars to seek an imaginary cup? You bet! Burning women alive under accusations of witchcraft? Sure thing! A life of feudal serfdom in the service of inbred kings? Hooray!) In fact, over time European fashion required constant tightening so that by the 14th century, upper-class dandies were strangling their nethers into a ghastly contraption called “hose.”
Of course, for cycling, horse riding, cold weather and various types of physical work, pants are tremendously practical. After all, this is what they were invented for. And they have carried potent symbolism across the ages: French revolutionaries donned working men’s trousers in the 1790’s, a symbolic rejection of the breeches favoured by the aristocracy. The American women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer pushed for women’s clothing “suited to her wants and necessities… while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.” Her favoured pants came in a looser style — dubbed “bloomers” — that gather at the ankles, a variation of which remains popular among the utilitarian Kurds of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
So I am not asking for the wholesale abandonment of pants. I am just asking that they be required only when they are practical — cycling, horse riding and so on — and leave the rest of Fashion for more comfortable alternatives.
When the weather is good or the buses are too tricky, I like to ride my bicycle to get around town. Pants are fantastic for this activity, but I don’t need them for anything else. I sit in front of a computer for work, I go hiking for fun, I go to bars and dance to my favourite bands at night, I read in parks on warm weekends, I attend the cinema on cold evenings, I go for walks on sunny afternoons, I drive to the beach and go surfing when there’s swell. Nothing about any of these activities requires western-style straight-legged pants other than the fact that I do them in public — and being in public requires wearing pants.
Imagine the boosts in productivity and workplace satisfaction when office workers — men and women alike — start showing up in loose-fitting kurtas or kilts instead of slacks? Picture the perceptible easing of global tensions when prime ministers, presidents, chancellors and kings conduct their affairs while lounging in togas, rather than stuffed into pants suits? How much more excited will you be to go out and see your friends when doing so necessitates throwing on a robe, rather than squeezing into jeans?
I’m a coward when it comes to fashion — I cannot do this alone. But everywhere I look I see men and women suffering in pants. As we approach Christmas, I encourage you all to talk to your friends, family and coworkers about pants. We have all been suffering in silence for too long. It’s time to give them up.