On another’s pants

Blog post by Dan Sumners (on Twitter @dansumners), shared with permission

22 April 2011

Whilst hanging my housemate’s washing out to dry this morning, I was inspired to consider how the way we feel about the pants of another is indicative of the way in which we create the world in which we live, rather than simply experience one which exists whether or not we do.

A washed pair of pants is, fundamentally, no different to any other item of washed clothing in anything other than shape; it is simply a clean piece of material. Of course, pants may carry with them their own signs of being worn against a particular part of the body, but ‘stains’ are no more than a discolouration, or re-colouration, of the material.

But we nevertheless do not approach the pants of another in the same way we do the t-shirt or socks of another, a claim I make based on observation of my own reactions and the accounts of others that they have so kindly shared. When hanging a shirt on a washing line one will grab it from the laundry basket or box any which way, but when the garment in question is of the under variety one pays studious attention lest skin to gusset contact should be inadvertently effected.

This suggests that in some way we perceive in clean pants the ghost, spirit or residue of the genitalia they so recently housed, which is patently ridiculous. Do we consider a shirt or jumper to retain something of the nipples they recently harboured, or trousers the phantom of knees?

It was suggested to me that perhaps a similar situation pertains with regard to a bra (and therefore nipples), but I tend to believe that how one thinks of that item of clothing is rather a function of the fact that, for so many of us, it is impossible to consider one without at the same time filling it. Not so with pants; we do not need to imagine a pair occupied to feel in some way nervous about interacting with it.

It is clear, therefore, that the world, for each of us, does not exist simply, or at all, as a collection of independent physical things. The world is rather a function of one’s mind; a pair of pants is never just a piece of material with (at least) three apertures. It is so much more.