“Mary Beard Currently Professor of Classics at her alma mater and a very successful television presenter of famously scatty appearance, Beard’s finest hour came in the long, hot summer of 1976 when, while out punting on the Cam, she stripped to her knickers for a series of saucy poses bent over a punt pole. Fellow students at the all-girls college Newnham thought the shots were “a bit slaggy”, but the boys awarded her the coveted Rear of the Year prize any way. (Note: The gong was later withdrawn amid allegations that none of the boys had ever seen any other female bottoms. Also note: Beard became a feminist around this time.)”
When I saw that tweet my first thought was: ‘I cannot wait to read what A A Gill will have to say about this!’ It’s a wonderful thought to think all that time we were watching Beard enthuse over Romans, she didn’t have any pants on.
My second thought was…what are pants for? It put me in mind of an essay Germaine Greer wrote for the Sunday Times in 1971 (it’s featured in a collection of Greer’s essays and writings The Madwoman’s Underclothes) about underwear. During an examination Greer’s doctor enquired: “‘Why’, she murmured, ‘are you wearing pants?’ Now this is no hippy homeopath or herbalist. My doctor wears no charms or beads or sandals…She waited for an answer and I cudgelled my brains for a rational answer, but all that came to mind was a vignette of my mother saying, ‘What if you were knocked over by a car?’ Obviously, if going without means that one is more cautious in traffic, there’s much to be said for it.”
Other than to uncomfortably creep about your undercarriage, announce their presence via VPLs and occasionally suck our stomachs in and lift our buttocks up I can’t think of an actual use beyond modesty.
They seem to only be there to contain panty-liners one of the most wasteful, environmentally unfriendly, useless products I have ever witnessed an advert for. Other than vague mentions of ‘freshness’ on the webpage I am clueless when it comes to panty-liners. I know I can get them in G-string shape. I also know there is a formal wear style of panty-liner that comes in black. I know panty-liners are often presented in a box that has such an inviting lid that the entire product looks like something you proffer guests at dinner parties, ‘After dinner mint? Panty-liner?’
They are so baffling I am convinced advertisers haven’t a clue what to do with them. The most recent advert for Panty-liners called Dailies discusses freshness in such a way that a suspicion is implied that women might not be changing their knickers every day. And at the end, I swear, the model sort of…smells her fingers. Smells her fingers! She’s been standing around with one hand down her pants all day but thanks to a panty-liner: fresh as an effing daisy.
So that’s one use for pants. To contain panty-liners, which are themselves useless. There isn’t even much of a defence when it comes to history. No pant documentary can begin with the words: ‘Since the dawn of time’ because a recognisable knicker only came about in the last century. Fine, we didn’t have the vote but it seems our vulvas got quite the airing.
It was only in the 18th century women began to wear open drawers. Drawers had been part of a man’s wardrobe originally with an opening at the crotch seam. Which sounds rather more hygienic than the hole provided in a pair of Spanx. By the 19th century closed drawers were the undergarment du jour but even by the 1920s women were slow to adopt smaller pants and were divided by those who wore drawers and those who wore knickers.
Due to fabric shortage and the shrivelling feeling the idea of wool pants gives I suspect many a lady went without knickers during the wars. Only in the 1950s with the increased use of Nylon and elastic did knickers become more recognisable to us today.
But I am still to come up with a better reason for them other than being discovered should I be knocked down by a car...