Saturday, June 12, 2010

today : pants

I am waiting for my underwear. Keenly. Now, dear reader, please don't look away because I mentioned my underwear. I have no intention of having the kind of blog that brings up one of those "are you sure you are over 18? "entrance portals.

But the the fact is that I am waiting for a parcel of new underwear to arrive. This shows the mighty and stunning power of the Internet, as well as the relative absurdity of the so-called free-market.

I cannot be the only person who believes that some things are important. In fact, I think that everything is important i.e. if you are going to spend money on something then make sure it's what you want (or as close to it as available). Earlier in the year I ordered some shoes via Australia, which were delivered to my house via Bordeaux. This because I wear a large size and could simply not get hold of the specific brand and model of shoes I wanted (they are close to perfect for me due to a unique and effective design) in the whole of England. Shoes to me are the most important foundation garment, closely followed by socks. Because my feet are medically taxing and highly unusual, I have to be extremely careful. You'd be amazed at how even slightly incorrect socks can lead to significant increases in pain and losses in stamina when applied to my feet. So when, after much trial and error, I discovered a brand and model that fitted and were comfortable I stuck with them. Even different colours of the same sock possess slightly different qualities. For several years I was able to get the ones I wanted, but then suddenly they became scarce in my local clothes emporia.The Internet came to my rescue. I bought a wholesale pack of them from a gentleman's outfitters in Shropshire - 25 pairs, which at the rate my oddly shaped feet, unusual loading and rate of sock attrition (about 1 a week wears out beyond repair), is a years supply. A side issue was that buying 25 pairs in one fell swoop was a significant saving on buying 2 pairs at a time.

By the way, here's a tip that arose as another side-issue. If you buy all the same make, model and colour of socks, then it eliminates the odd-sock dilemma, as all your socks match. I am aware that this might scupper some observational comic's finely honed routines based on the question "Where do the odd socks go?", as well as a whole series of Far-Side or Far-Side-style cartoons and maybe even one or two children's books, but that is a price I am willing to pay.

So anyway, the next most important foundation garment is underwear. Pants. undercrackers, trolleys, knickers, chuddis, undershorts - whatever you want to call them.

I bought some underwear in the USA about 10 years ago and it was a revelation. I discovered at the time that many Americans were much further down the line of 'designer' underwear than us Brits, who seem only to be able to shop at M&S and one or two other places for their gentleman's foundation items. But on my USA shopping spree I found that the kind of boxer short that I preferred was readily available almost everywhere. Not cheap (the Brits also seem to choose cheapness - three pairs for a fiver - over comfort, perhaps that's why we are all so uptight), but quality. The key with 'Designer' clothes is that they are always massively overpriced, but almost always of better quality than generic stuff or non-designer 'brands'. Ted Baker shirts are silly money, but do last for years and years without looking old. Ralph Lauren gents clothes are, in my experience, excellent quality, even if at full price they are still not worth what they ask. The secret is to get them in a sale, where the price is closer to what they are worth. The clothes last just as long.

I must admit that, at the time, part of the appeal for me was that Calvin Klein pants were the brand a la mode, but in Britain expensive and rare. In the USA I bought one or two pairs of Calvins just to be trendy, but mainly other brands.

They have lasted ten years. TEN YEARS. And that's whilst retaining almost all of their original quality. Not for me falling apart seams, lost buttons and the colour of old chewing gum. No. My black ones are pristine black, the elegant sober grey ones are still elegant sober grey. The white ones could well make you snowblind. That's 12 pairs changed every day for 10 years. Each pair has been washed and dried more than 300 times.

But we know all good things come to an end. The Calvins - the most expensive by far - went first. Around the second half of last year the elastic lost its elasticity and consequently the garments themselves had to go the way of all things. Then one or two of the others started to show signs of weariness and joined them. I tried buying replacements from both M&S and the local supermarket, but they were ill shaped and dreadfully uncomfortable. What's more, after only a few washes they started to look old.

Now, this in no way constitutes an undergarment crisis. I still retained a good week and a half's supply. But I decided to head off any impending shortages by replenishing the numbers.

A search ensued. But what I found was extremely disturbing. Apparently, men have changed shape completely in the last 10 years. It seems now that (according to pictures on the boxes) in order to wear, for example, Calvin Klein brand underwear, men must possess a 24 inch waist, but also have a 32 inch thigh. What's more, the part in the middle (gusset, by the way, is the word that most people say is the one that makes them cringe) has apparently grown wider and wider to a point which is almost anatomically impossible.

Now I'm sure that most women I know would be very used to this idea - that clothes designers often easily get above their station and start expecting people to change to fit their clothes, rather than making the clothes to fit the people. In fact there's a very serious point to be made about how this can devastate women's self esteem and lead to all sorts of complex problems. What do women do when the 'fashion-gurus' decide that waifiness or curviness or the larger or smaller breast size is either in or out this season? It seems totally crazy and not a little cruel to suddenly declare that people themselves are suddenly out of fashion, and that each season clothes are made and sold that only fit or suit a small and specifically shaped number of the public. It's tyrannous.

This does happen more and more with men's clothes. And underwear is a glaring example. In Britain, there is also an issue of size. I'm not a slim guy and never have been and in such matters as undergarments I wear XL or even XXL (same as I wear a size 13 shoe). But try and find some XL designer underwear in Britain is almost impossible. The same goes for extra small people. This might be a question of economics, but either by design or default, people who are not slap bang in the middle of average are excluded from wearing certain clothes. If you are bigger than XL the choice of clothing in general is extremely small. Once you get to 3XL then it's specialist shops (and specialist prices) only. Which is silly, because not only are more people fatter these days, but lots of people who aren't too overweight are just bigger than, say, 40 years ago. I suspect a measure of fashion snobbishness. Some companies don't want certain (i.e. not shaped like models) people to wear their clothes.

But in the USA it's easy to get, for example, Calvin Kleins in a 2XL. It's also dead easy to get an huge range of choice.

So the replenishment of my underwear stock led me to the Internet. A quick search of the make of pants I wanted to buy threw up quite a few results. I decided to stay away from Calvins, even though in the USA they do a traditional knit boxer. It was a small protest against body fascism. So I went looking for another brand and there they were, pants much the same as the ones I'd had and been very happy with for 10 years. Sold by an online retailer in the USA. The fact that they were on sale and therefore cheaper than even cheap ones from M&S, and the shipping was about the same as parking for 2 hours in a UK city centre, was a bonus.

It is moments like this that I tend to stop and wonder at, despite plenty of negatives, what an amazingly revolutionary thing the Internet is. The speed, breadth and ease of communication it affords is almost unbelievable. In it's early days when I used it for email it was pretty stunning that I could send letters to the USA at the click of a mouse. But now I can order crucial items from the other side of the world, as easily as I can go and make a cup of coffee.

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