by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

A fellow once joined a discussion board to post about a peculiar problem: he always wore out the elbows of his shirts first. I don’t know what he was doing (perhaps his sleeves were too short and he stressed them at the elbow whenever he bent his arms?), but his odd quandary helpfully reminds us that we each have a particular wear problem. For most of us, it’s the collars and cuffs of shirts, which certain dandies relish wearing as they thin away, and the seats, cuffs and crotches of trousers. 

Ah, the poor mistreated trouser! There’s no other way to explain the superabundance of suspicious sportcoats and so-called blazers in the secondhand markets, survivors of indignities that range up to the dreaded “brown explosion” that has greeted at least one eBayer who looked inside the pants of his so-called LIKE NEW WITHOUT TAGS vintage suit purchase. With age and wear, jackets supposedly gain character; all the palaver we read about hand-canvassed custom purports that those floating interlinings better mold themselves to the body a tailor has carefully shaped a jacket around. Trousers? Assailed by expanding waists and the frottage of thundering thighs, by dirt, rain and pavement eating away at their extremities, by the friction of chair bottoms and by the unspeakable secretions of a normally functioning body…

Their impermanence is one of the many unfortunate reproaches to the claim that a good classic suit is an investment, one in timeless style to boot. Time is inexorable, bringing with it both changes in our dimensions and inevitable, slow destruction. Even the heaviest and most durable wools, the legendary ones that supposedly aren’t made anymore, will wear, to say nothing of the risks of moths and the depredations of dry-cleaning solutions… it’s as if everything will shorten the longevity of our clothes… because time, so far at least, turns in only one direction.  

This is why for over a decade I’ve always ordered a second pair of trousers with my suits, as my suits’ Achilles heels (pun intended) have indeed been their trousers. Like any good iGent, I hope that my suits outlive me, or at least the period of my life where I have excuses to wear them. A silly ambition, requiring me to maintain more or less the same physique I had when I ordered them (while good tailors are supposed to leave inlays of cloth in order to alter their creations, they are limited by practical realities). A self-indulgence, with the illusion of invulnerably affronting time itself. Pictured are one of the first pairs of pair of trousers I had ordered, in a houndstooth woven by the cloth firm J&J Minnis just before a change of ownership a decade ago, the great old “Minnis 656.” 

Back in the heyday of the internet discussion boards, I used to joke with my e-friends about having a Minnis 656 get-together, so many of us having ordered suits in that lovely worsted flannel. Today, time has not claimed my trousers, but it has dispersed us, shattered bonds of friendship, plunged many of us deeper into what was once only a wading pool-level of misanthropy.

And time has changed to where trousers of any kind, let alone matching suit jackets, may be completely unnecessary. In a world after confinement, perhaps a business suit will look as outlandish as the velvets of the court of Charles II. Yet I’ve kept ordering, not doubles of my suit trousers but odd trousers that are indeed odd, in happier colors and more interesting materials, with details to make them as comfortable and convenient as sweat pants, including the side adjusters that adapt to confinement waist and a special pocket that keeps a pen separate and straight. In their way, these pants are one of the few things I feel I have control over at this time, so that they allow me to conceal unspeakable anxieties and unmentionable unmentionables.