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?