Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Like to Had a Come-Apart when I saw He Was Wearing Go-To-Hell-Pants

Vernacular can be a tricky thing for a writer. Stephanie and I sometimes worry that some of our phraseology might not translate to the non-southern speaking part of the world. We worry even more, since we speak our own brand of shorthand with each other, that we use language that we don't realize others are not familiar with. For instance we know that "Raefen out of here," means leave as early as possible. This comes from our friends, the Raefens, who after a weekend away, like to get an early start for home. Everyone in our circle understands it--even those who don't know the Raefens. We used to laugh when we said it. Now, it's part of our language and is no more funny than, "Let's get an early start in the morning." We would not use this phrase in a book but we have others that we have forgotten we invented.

In Lauren Lipton's fabulous book, Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, I recently ran across something I had never heard of--Go-to-hell pants. I quote:

"What do you call those preppy pants, the kind where the right front leg is, like, yellow, and the left front leg is pink, and the right back leg is, I don’t know, green and the left back leg --"

"Go-to-hell pants," Luke interrupted. "What’s your point?"

"You people are lunatics,” Bex scoffed. “You can wear pants like that, but you won’t say one little 'I love you'? Don't be such a WASP, Luke."

I was intrigued by this and immediately went to my friendly Internet and learned that these pants are generally any loud crazy pants, often with a repeating pattern of embroidered motifs like lobsters, golf clubs, or alligators.

Apparently, these pants have been around for a long time but Tom Wolfe got around to christening them go-to-hell pants in a 1976 Esquire article.

This is what he had to say on the matter:

". . . had on their own tribal colors. The jackets were mostly navy blazers, and the ties were mostly striped ties or ties with little jacquard emblems on them, but the pants had a go-to-hell air: checks and plaids of the loudest possible sort, madras plaids, yellow-on-orange windowpane checks, crazy-quilt plaids, giant hounds-tooth checks, or else they were a solid airmail red or taxi yellow or some other implausible go-to-hell color. They finished that off with loafers and white crew socks or no socks at all. The pants were their note of Haitian abandon... at the same time the jackets and ties showed they had not forgotten for a moment where the power came from."

Who knew? That's what I wanted to know so I conducted one of my master mind totally scientific studies--meaning I asked the people I was with.

Last night, after going to see Saban, Gamechanger, I found myself at dinner with The Guy, Godson's Mom, Mr. and Mrs. Classy, and Mr. and Mrs. Cutest Girl Alive. Now, this is a smart group--traveled, educated, creative, and professional. (I don't know why they let me hang out with them.) This crew has logged time in sororities, fraternities, locker rooms, golf courses, tennis courts, the Junior League, and any number of seedy and upscale bars. Not all of them are "From Here". Yet, when I said. "Hey, y'all, listen here. Who's heard of go-to-hell pants?", six pairs of clueless eyes turned to me. Six heads shook to indicate that they had no idea what I meant.

I educated them, as far as I was able.

Mrs. Classy said, "I've seen those pants. I know what you mean. I did not know that's what they are called." She did not approve. She is after all, classy.

I told The Guy I might buy him some. "Go ahead," he said in a tone that might have well have had a Clint Eastwood-style "make my day', tacked to the end.

"Well, I need some," Mr. Cutest Girl Alive said. "I'll wear them. But I need them to be in the colors of The Crimson Tide."

I'm going to get right on that. Being very nearly as cute as his wife, he could get away with wearing them.

Have you ever heard of these pants? What have you learned about other cultures in your fiction reading?


  1. Nope, never heard of them. I have seen them and...well...LMAO. Just can't say that they are my cup of tea. Not very attractive. I could just imagine buying my husband a pair - if I had the guts - and seeing them being used as a rag with the price tag still on them. Hubby likes Dirty Harry too.

    I guess the books I read aren't that educational because I am drawing pretty much a blank. The only book that comes to mind is "Memoirs of a Geisha." I had no idea about the life of a geisha before I read that book.

  2. Hahahahaha... I would have loved to been at that dinner table discussing the go to hell pants. Great post!

  3. LMAO! Wish I could have been there to see The Guy respond to that question. The music to the Good, Bad, & Ugly comes quickly to mind. ;)

    I used to have a pair of pants that had Texas written all over them. They were very cute. Of course, these were popular back in the early 80's. Should have known they were 'Go to Hell' pants. I didn't care who saw me wearing them. But then again, I've never really been one to conform. Pirate!

  4. LOL! Never heard the expression before either..but it fits. Back in the 80's I worked for a large manufactured housing facility and all the sales guys were big on golfing. And apparently big on 'go to hell' pants. I'm talking bring out the sunglasses kind of pants. And I would! They'd just laugh and tell me I was jealous I couldn't get away with wearing them. Yeah, right. Like I would. :-D
    But...in my early years I did have a pair of wide flared pants with the Coke emblem all over them. Y'all remember them? Man, I loved those pants!

    Cheryl, my Hubby would do the same thing. I would find them as a cleaning rag somewhere!

  5. Well, this Yankee had never heard of the aforementioned pant style. Although, I -have- seen them. (One of the interesting-but-useless benefits to having eccentric friends who shop off of the vintage rack at thrift stores.) I remember someone referring to them as 'golf pants'. All I could think was: They must a covert distraction meant to throw off the game for everyone else. The visual equivalent to running around green screaming, flailing, and otherwise carrying on. >.>

  6. I've never heard of go to hell pants but I have now and will henceforth incorporate the term into my vocabulary! Love it!! haha

    I used the word night-tail to describe a nightgown in a Civil War historical. My editor didn't like it. Didn't have any idea what it meant and got stuck on it, so I changed it to the bland, nightgown. sigh

    I've also used the word haint in dialogue to describe a ghost. I thought that word was commonly known throughout the US. Nope. Nada. Not everybody knows what a haint is. Too bad.

  7. Cheryl--Ralph Loren will sell us some but they would be very expensive dust rags.

    Christine--It was kind of surreal . . . .

    Katherine--Yeah, you know if he things sandals and shorts are sissy, how likely he is to wear hot pink pants with green alligators on them.

    Sherry--I had those pants, which I didn't like but I had the shorts, that I loved. They had "It's the real thing!" right where it really should not have been on my 16 year old bottom.

    RedPeril--The guys I know were khakis to play golf--pants in the winter and shorts in the summer. But I have seen some of these pants, mostly on older gentlemen, when I drive past the Country Club.

    Debra--Everyone doesn't know "haint"? I am surprised and annoyed. And I see here spell heck has not use for it either. It's such a perfect word.

  8. Hey, y'all. I have a lot of typos in that post. I have to go edit now. Might not be the best time.

  9. Does The Guy wear printed lounge pants (the kind most guys sleep in)? For fun, at Christmas, the girls always get LTC printed pajama pants. He's got Scrooge and Snoopy. And, believe or not, he wears them! Alpha and pirate!

  10. You know, it just occurred to me, and I am slow, you wrote a blog about pants and you're "The Pantster." Wow, it takes so little to amuse me!

  11. Cheryl--I didn't think of that. Maybe I could have been more clever.

    Katherine--Yeah. He wears printed lounge pants. Rubber ducks. The Grinch. Polar bears. Plaid. It was a surprise to me. I can't predict him.

  12. Okay, sorry, but all I can seem to come up with to say is...wait for it.... HYSTERICAL!

  13. Crystal--Those pants could drive one to hysterics, for sure.

  14. Hey Y'all,
    Sorry to to so late chiming in. I was really sick yesterday and read the blog but wasn't up to even typing a quick comment so I here I am now...
    We always just called these "crazy golf pants."

    It is nice to know they have a more descriptive name.