“Underwear… is the specialist clothing of being a woman. They are the female equivalent of the fireman’s jumpsuit and helmet. Or the large shoes of a clown. (But) over the years we have made knickers harder and harder. Knickers have gradually become difficult. And the reason for this is that knickers have become smaller. Much smaller. Too small.”
– Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman
Caitlin Moran goes on to write in her book How to be a Woman that feminism demands larger pants. Big pants. And I think she’s right. Not just because feminism is about the humanisation of women – just as anti-feminism is about the discomfort of women whether political, economic or physical. But because big pants are more versatile.
I know a woman who led a terrified horse from a burning stable by putting her massive pants over its eyes and leading it calmly to safety. Another lady I know has not only given up plastic shopping bags but also those environmentally friendly jute ones. Instead, at the checkout, she just holds her big undies out from her waist and pops her tinned tomatoes and pasta shells down the front. Job done. And it’s a no brainer that if you were a female Prime Minister you could not afford to collapse at Prime Minister’s Question Time from a lack of blood to the head caused by too tight knickers. If you did you’d better hope they were at least a matching set.
The thing I can’t understand is how we can get design so right for so many things – the Dyson, anything by Apple, Philippe Stark’s Ghost chair, Armani jackets – but not for knickers. Surely someone out there can design underpants that are both beautiful AND comfortable… which is to say they actually encase your buttocks 100 per cent of the time and do not require surgical removal from your crack at the end of the day. This is, after all, the primary purpose of pants.
It’s not as if we want to wear ugly pants. We definitely don’t. We are all, I’m sure, scared by the memory of our mothers’ underwear drawer, rammed with those horrible, shiny synthetic Triumph pants, seemingly only ever made in beige (even the word is hideous), grey white, or static black. Possibly they were comfortable, though you wouldn’t want to stand near a naked flame, but hideous. Where’s the middle ground?
My husband likes to buy me underwear. He probably buys me a set each year and, because I buy my knickers in 5-packs from the supermarket for four bucks, it’s always a welcome gift. La Perla generally gets the thumbs up for style and comfort. Fred & Ginger’s knickers, on the other hand, are as beautiful as a geisha and three times as cruel…you may as well stick a hedgehog up your fanny, front and back. And so what is a wonderful thought can become a fractious gift.
On the one hand, anyone in long term relationship clings to romance like they would a dying child.
On the other hand, the thought of popping a hedgehog up your front and back bottom and adopting any kind of ‘come hither’ pose is physically impossible unless you’re specially trained for it by the SAS. And since you can’t take a pair of torturous pants back for a refund they tend to be wedged further and further to the back of your marriage, I mean drawer. Incidentally I know a man who refused to buy his girlfriend expensive underwear because what she wanted was skin coloured. Fascinating.
And that’s the thing. The underwear we need for work isn’t the underwear being designed and sold. Five days out of seven I need underwear that disappears under close-fitting t-shirts, shirts, dresses and blouses. It needs to be white, skin coloured or black, and seamless. It also needs to be tough enough for the washing machine. It’s a lovely idea hand washing underwear but who the hell has the time? I promise myself I’ll do it every time I splurge on a new set, but the commitment lasts precisely one handwash and then I’m back to the spin cycle.
99 per cent of underwear for sale isn’t what we need. It’s like being sent in to bat without shin pads, or up that fire ladder without a helmet. It’s like a Tory MP at your first day in parliament being forced into a ‘Labour-red’ tie. Men would not stand for it. Why do we?
But then, from what I read these days men are becoming victims of underwear too. Buttock flattering padded pants, Spanx for men (‘Manx’), and a cornucopia of coloured designer cock covers are marching into the lives of our loved ones, wooing them like vicious lovers. It’s tempting to watch it unfold but really, I’m not sure we’d be aiding humanity. Comfortable nether regions should be a universal right of humankind. I’m not altogether sure the Palestinian-Israeli conflict isn’t caused by too-tight keks.
Whether for feminism or world peace I think Caitlin Moran is spot on. We do need to reassess our tolerance for uncomfortable underwear. We own fourth generation touch screen computer tablets, cars with heated steering wheels (well, not me, but I know they exist) and phones that can triangulate our location by satellite in relation to the nearest bottle of Pouilly Montrachet.
There really is no excuse for someone not to have designed the perfect pair of knickers. As and when they do, we must buy them and leave the scratchy satin postage stamps firmly stacked in the stockpile of the man factories they come from. Like battery eggs, say ‘NO!’ to bad pants.
Have you found the perfect pants? What’s your style: g-string, briefs, boylegs…?