Pants. There is something

October 31, 2003


There is something about pants that is just plain funny. Maybe it is the sound of the word, maybe it is the body parts that they cover, but they are funny. Spongebob Squarepants is funny because of his last name, at least to me. I just tested this - say the word "pants" out loud three times. Pants Pants Pants. By the third time I was smiling. Were you?

There is also something about pants that is just plain annoying. For such a simple garment, they are hard to find in the correct size and shape. Buttocks and thighs are funny shapes and hard to cover well, we are self-conscious about our crotches, that is part of it. But still, how hard can it be to cut two tubes of fabric and connect them at the top? It must be harder than it looks.

Women's pants are sized according to the old standard sizes, first standardized during World War Two. Men's pants are sized according to two standard measures, waist and inseam. If you know how round you are in the middle and how far it takes to reach the ground, you should be able to buy pants. Right?

Those standard sizes only describe two of the three measurements. There is a third, the rise, or the distance between the crotch seam and the waistband. Some people wear their pants high, other low. Some people like the crotch of their pants high, others low. The current trend is for low waist, low crotch, pants for men, and low waist, high crotch, low rise pants for women - hip huggers.

I buy my chinos from LL Bean - they are solid, they wear well, the price is right, and I would rather surf the web for 10 minutes than take half an hour and drive to a store. The problem is that you can not try them on, you have to guess at size and shape. Fat as I am, I still wear their thin cut pants - the mail order catalogs really do cater to pear-shaped desk warriors. I also have to guess about the rise, something that varies from pant to pant, from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from shipment to shipment.

Why am I ranting about this? I am about to order more pants, and I was baffled for a while as to why I could pick between a 35 waist and 29 inseam, 34 waist and 30 inseam, and in dress pants, a 34 waist and 27 1/2 inseam. The different inseam measurements are largely a by-product of the different rise in the various cuts. Two and a half inches difference in an inseam is a LOT; no wonder their dress pants chafe the middle of my thighs. I seem to be replicating all the fun of women's clothing and their "standardized" sizes - these run big, those run small, I am a this size in these cloths and a that size in those clothes, and so on.

It could be worse: a couple of years ago I ordered some fat-ass-cut (natural cut?) pants from one or another catalogue company, and they were so freaking BIG that I tried to get both of my legs into a single pants leg, and almost succeeded.

The current trend towards computerized custom clothing helps a bit. The first iteration of those was not so good. The new generation, especially Lands End's new custom shirt software, is pretty good. They still do not know how to cut a shirt for someone with big traps and scrawny arms, but there are not all that many unathletic mesomorphs out there.

Standard sizes, whether the women's scale of even numbers or the men's scale of inches and dimensions, are a sign of the tail end of the second industrial revolution. They are an attempt to adjust standardized goods for semi-standardized human shapes. The third industrial revolution, the moment that some people call the post-industrial economy, is about using information technology to provide custom results from mass production machinery. That Lands End automatic boutique is the third industrial revolution's answer to the problem of how to get custom tailoring (first industrial revolution - machine cloth and hand sewing) with mass production standard sizes (second industrial revolution).

This is not an original thought, several other people have commented on boutique manufacturing over the last few years. I suppose my final thought will be the mandatory navel-gazing. Blogs are the op-ed pages of the internet. Between blogs, newsfeeds, and the ability to use portals to sort and file news stories, can we produce a custom newspaper/news feed for ourselves? If so, is this the future of information?

George W. Bush recently got a lot of flack for disclosing that he does not watch television news. It was unclear if he reads newspapers. Instead he depends on his staffers to filter and summarize the day's news for him. This can be a good thing - no one needs to get caught up in the pack journalism and media phrenzies of the crisis of the moment. It can also be a bad thing if his news filters are doing a poor job of it. This is the hand-tailored version of a newspaper.

Perhaps instead of getting my news from many different sources I should try to use information technology to create a news filter for myself. I currently read the Philadelphia Inquirer in paper form, the Washington Post and New York Times on line, and about half a dozen political blogs (see the blogroll on the left) for extra commentary and op ed. I do not watch much television and I never watch television news. If I was better about my time management, I would set up a news portal.

But, I am easily distracted and I like to read the news.

Posted by Red Ted at October 31, 2003 10:22 AM | TrackBack