by Daniel Penny


A few years ago, I started contemplating the idea of a big pair of pants. I’m not talking straight cut, or a little baggy--I’m talking voluminous. At first, I rejected this sick fantasy. These were the tailend years of skinny jeans and narrow, flat front trousers, and I was a true believer. When I had first gotten into clothes, I was kind of obsessed with achieving a sharp silhouette, pouring over old pictures of ‘60s mods, and imitating the knife blade proportions put out by Thom Browne and Band of Outsiders. But as the years wore on and my waist line began to expand, I started to feel like a looser cut might not be a bad look, or at least, might not be bad for my circulation.

At the time, I was seeing more women embrace fuller clothes, and the idea intrigued me, but like many men, I was also a bit of a coward, and so to bolster my confidence in this new style, I began my search with the most manly (and cost effective) garments I could muster--military vintage and reproductions. On a website specializing in gear for military reenactors, those strange men who dress up in period costume to relive the heroism (and more often barbarism) of their forefathers, I stumbled upon a pair of tan cotton drill gurkhas that struck my fancy. Supposedly made for British officers during World War II, they had not one, but two reverse pleats, side adjusters, and a massively high waist with a two button closure. How could a pair of pants that looked like this suddenly seem cool to me? They didn’t hug the body or end in tiny, four-inch cuffs. My eye had grown so atrophied from staring at little stick legs that these pants barely looked like pants at all. In that moment, everything I had believed about fashion came under suspicion.

I hesitated with my cursor over the “buy” button. Then I remembered the courage of the British officers who’d valiantly worn them in battle. Certainly I was brave enough to order some clothes online. When the pants arrived, I opened the package and swathed myself in cotton drill. The waist fit well, but the quantity of fabric had me second-guessing my decision. My legs floated inside, hidden in a way that was both modest and strangely sexy. Seeing a photo via text, my brother described them as “A big mood.”

Trying to keep things simple, I tucked in a fresh white T-shirt and decided to take my new pants for a spin. The swish swish of the pants was refreshing, and the breeze positively invigorating. They flapped, they rustled, they billowed! Those years spent sweating through the summer in APCs, my closely held devotion to Hedi Slimane--it all suddenly seemed so foolish, so unnecessary. I didn’t have to suffer anymore.

Even if I’d grown tired of my old crotch-throttling trousers, my brain was having a hard time accepting that these pants weren’t ugly. To passersby, I imagine my face was like that meme of the older woman trying to compute some simple task with complex equations swimming around her puzzled expression. Could these pants actually look good on me? Catching my reflection in a store window, I was relieved to find that my outfit looked less like General Patton and more like Isaac Mizrahi. Though they were an old design, they felt thoroughly modern--certainly newer than the stale trend for tight pants I had once embraced so fervently. These pants were large and in charge, and I was converted.