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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2005
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MY LIFE
Stephanie Gilliam

Pant styles: An inexplicable temptation

I have been thinking a lot about pants lately.

A few things brought this on, one of which is a brief passage in the new Harry Potter book. In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Neville Longbottom, the invariably hapless friend of Harry's, sets his own pants on fire while wearing them to get past a poltergeist and up the staircase to his dormitory.

It reminds me of when I had to dodge our dorm's insane housekeeper to get to the gym in the mornings. Naturally after escaping, Neville had to get out a new pair of pants.

That made me wonder if the book was referring to what the English call pants — in our vernacular, underpants — or if the author was talking about what the English typically call trousers and what we call pants. But word use aside, is it possible to set one on fire without setting the other alight as well? I doubt it.

At any rate, I have been thinking about the trouser kind. They seem to be enjoying an inexplicable renaissance. I know that people have worn pants for hundreds of years, but recently there have been more options in the kind of pants that you can wear. When I look in my closet, I see an inordinately large number of pants.

What is it with pants?

Until a couple of years ago, you could get away with having a few pairs — black, brown, jeans. But now women feel that we have to have kelly green, cucumber green, pink, black with purple polka dots, red with white sailboats, rhinestone-encrusted jeans, and on and on.

Why? How could otherwise sensible women succumb to this craze for pants of all colors and lengths? Weren't the capri pants — cropped to lengths that make them impractical for wearing in all but warm weather — bad enough? And yet this year retailers persuaded us to buy shorter pants, basically nothing more than very long shorts.

Pants have transformed from a clothing staple into their own genre, with attendant sub-genres. If you browse through a store or catalog, you look at jeans (bootcut, relaxed fit, regular fit, boy fit), chinos (summer weight or regular), capris (solids and prints), and corduroys (stretch, solid or patterned). All the pictures of happy, pant-clad models make me want some of each kind, too.

It can only be a clever ploy by the fashion industry to keep us returning for more. Awareness doesn't alleviate temptation — not only by pants but also by the newest kitten heel shoes, emerald green wrap sweater and velveteen jackets. I think that our shopping impulses must be controlled, or rather, not controlled, by the same area of the brain that makes us crave strawberry cake in spite of knowing one slice of really good strawberry cake contains enough calories to sustain a medium-sized person for at least three days.

This is not a problem of only the last few years or even of the last century. The famous English diarist Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") wrote in 1660, "This morning came home my fine camlet cloak, with gold buttons, and a silk suit, which cost me much money, and I pray God to make me able to pay for it."

To which I can only add, "Amen brother."

Stephanie Gilliam, 24, is a Decatur resident who works at Hospice of the Valley.

Stephanie Gilliam Stephanie Gilliam

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