Thursday, August 02, 2007

Portents and Wonders

Yesterday it was possible to see something that has not been seen in public since the early 1980s. It has not appeared in the news at all; I'm not sure why. But yesterday you could have observed your correspondent on the city streets wearing a shirt that was not a polo shirt, trousers that were not jeans, and a belt.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not suspenders. A belt. I have been seen occasionally in trousers other than jeans, and in shirts that were not polo shirts, in the last twenty-five years. But never without suspenders. ("Braces," to you Englanders; although here "braces" refer specifically to non-stretchy suspenders, especially as worn by skinheads.)

It was a very strange experience. I felt quite undressed. It was not until late afternoon that I became confident that my pants really would stay on. I continually had to haul on them and adjust them so that the knees wouldn't overstretch -- when they're more-or-less fixed at the hip you have to pull them up to get slack at the knees.

A queer costume, the belt at the waist. It strikes me as very odd that the national male costume should rely on a feature that only maybe half of my countrymen possess -- to wit, a concavity below the ribs. I have no such concavity. I have a decided convexity. In which case, the only two options are to belt above the stomach -- which would make me look my age with a vengeance, clearly no option at all -- or to wear the belt along the top of the iliac crest, nicely outlining and emphasizing the pot of the belly. I looked around today at how men were wearing their trousers, and they were all doing the same thing -- wearing their belts around their hips. In a culture rather hysterically obsessed with slimness, the choice of a costume that draws attention to these bulges seems downright perverse, the equivalent of people who in conversation compulsively mention exactly what they wish to conceal.

Last year, looking at the wedding pictures of a Nigerian friend, I was greatly struck by the formal male dress -- wonderful garments that emphasized the shoulders and fell gracefully to the mid-thigh. Why don't we wear something like those? A potbelly is practically invisible in them. And you could breathe. I couldn't breathe freely, wearing that belt. I found myself hitching it up to take a deep breath, from time to time.

So I tried. But it's back to suspenders today. If you missed it, you'll have to wait another twenty-five years, I'm afraid.

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