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April 22, 2006

The Sign on the Can

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Men sometimes wear sweat pants; so do women. We're alike in so many ways! Yet have you ever known a man to wear sweatpants that are lime-green? Let alone that have "PinkLove" stiched in screaming red over the seat? A few minutes ago, a young woman wearing just such sweatpants cut in front of me at a local takeout place.

It may be one of those essential female/male differences: Men, at least heterosexual men, won't even consider wearing sweatpants that feature provocative words stamped across the butt. I suspect that this generalization holds true even among men from the more peacocky cultures -- Italian, African-American. I consider my observation here a major contribution to the field of evolutionary biology, by the way, and I look forward to scientific investigations into the question. My bet is that the amygdala plays a big role, but that's just an amateur's hunch.

Propriety question for the day: Faced with attention-snagging behavior on the part of strangers, at what point does it become OK to take vocal note? The gal I saw today wearing the decorated lime-green sweats obviously meant to be calling attention to her behind. She was in fact working pretty darned hard to make her butt impossible to miss. So: Would it have been OK to say to this girl, "Hey, baby, nice caboose!"? I mean, in a friendly and non-threatening tone? And if not, why not? Not that I'm about to do any such thing, of course. But how do I know that it wouldn't be appropriate? I'm not sure.

I don't think it's a completely absurd question. After all, if a guy were to dye his hair bright green, he'd probably expect people not just to notice but to vocalize their surprise (or delight or dismay). A girl wearing a large safety pin through her cheek might sulk if people took note -- but sullenly-shaking-off- "unwanted"-attention is part of the ritual she's ensuring takes place, isn't it?

I find the conundrum even more puzzling than the challenge presented by vacation toplessness. Being surrounded by bare-breasted gals on a St. Barth's beach is both extremely pleasant and surprisingly easy to handle. I think this is because the situation is understood by everybody present to be a wonderfully-elaborate adult game. The beach is specially-marked-out territory ... The water, the sand, and the sun all contribute to a "natural" feeling ... You're shown up in the first place in order to look and be seen ...

Whether you're a gal or a guy, you're lolling around a topless beach in full awareness that the scene is set apart from normal life, and that it's meant to be relaxed yet provocative. It's meant, in fact, to be relished as such. I always find it fascinating to watch the way women put their tops on in order to walk from the beach to the sidewalk to buy an ice cream cone. Once they're back on the sand again, off comes the top. That couple-of-feet of sidewalk turns out to be mighty important, in a propriety sense.

In a city store or a suburban mall, though, no such contract has been agreed upon. One's inner "Is this appropriate?" sign starts to flash. (As does one's inner "Hubba hubba!" sign.) Besides, bright colors and a sexy nonsense word-stamp? They're like advertising. Bare breasts on a beach say: "This is what I've got. This is who I am." By contrast, what the color-choice of lime-green and provocatively-placed words say is: "I'm hot stuff! Pay attention to me!"

On a topless beach, I enter into a very pleasant, bemused dream state. Surprised in a store by a college girl making loud demands that I zero in on her butt, I take heed and enjoy the view. Can't help that! But I also feel a little rattled and annoyed.

Guidance? Reflections? Is there a name for it -- the whole thing of sewing or stitching an image or word across the seat of pants? Has the fashion been around for long? America needs to know. I did some Googling and it seems that some people call them "butt patches."



posted by Michael at April 22, 2006


The problem, it seems to me, would likely be that she would interpret your comment as a come-on, and be offended less by your "dirty thoughts" than by your presumptiveness in engaging her in such a conversation. If, OTOH, you were to exclaim to a male friend, "daaaaaaamn, check that out!", so that she could clearly hear you, this would be considered a great deal more reasonable from the standpoint of ass-logo undergrad culture.

Posted by: J. Goard on April 22, 2006 4:36 PM

Ha, why beat around the bush? If she's that provocative, be provocative back: "I've got some pink love for your behind, babyyy." Hey, if you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way.

Seriously, though, girls like that want to be checked out, know that they're being checked out, but not be approached. That way they get an ego boost w/o having to expend any extra effort in social engagement.

These pants came out around 2000, piggybacking on the low-rise, hip-hugger jeans. So much recent fascination with the booty -- was it J-Lo or what?

Posted by: Agnostic on April 22, 2006 5:31 PM

I think it might be more of a generational thing than a male/female difference. I am in my mid-30s and don't see many women my age wearing pants or shorts with words across the seat, but it's a very common style for the younger set (Gosh, I feel old.) I first started noticing the style a couple of years ago. I hate it. I have no desire to look at the rear ends of 17-year-old girls, but the big words stamped across them almost force your eyes to that part of their anatomy.

Posted by: Waterfall on April 22, 2006 5:32 PM

...but sullenly-shaking-off- "unwanted"-attention is part of the ritual she's ensuring takes place, isn't it?

That's how the game is played. It's like when people put piercings all over their faces and then complain when straights stare at them or businesses won't hire them. Of course the 17-year-old girl (or piercing enthusiast) might like the attention if it comes from an attractive peer, but the important thing is that she gets to remain in control by deciding whose attention is legitimate. At the same time she can play the victim against anyone she dislikes who is foolish enough to interpret her weird behavior as license to comment. Quite a racket.

Posted by: Jonathan on April 22, 2006 6:04 PM

Sort-of following up on Jonathan's comment, as I understand it a girl who wears sweatpants with a suggestive butt logo (or other types of sluttish clothing) wants men to notice her - but only if they're the right type of men. If you're a studly 20-year-old, feel free to comment; if you're an average Joe 40-year-old, you're not allowed to comment or even look too closely. Very unfair, if you ask me ... but then again, if I were single I (hopefully) wouldn't be interested in that kind of girl.
While we're on the subject of young women's posteriors, these sweatpants logos are infinitely preferable to deliberate displays of rump cleavage (aka "plumber's crack").

Posted by: Peter on April 22, 2006 9:13 PM

Is there a name for it -- the whole thing of sewing or stitching an image or word across the seat of pants? Has the fashion been around for long?

They're very popular at college. Not just the sweatpants, but the Daisy Dukes version -- ultra short shorts with the words on the butt, meant for the stairmaster.

Fortunately for me, the treadmills in the gym are located directly behind the stairmasters. Voila, instant mousewheel-style motivation. Run as fast as you can while those words bob up and down in front of you, tantalizingly out of reach. A metaphor for the professional world...(as well as a metaphor for the point of the profesional world, in that working out/working gives you assets that get you closer to that derriere)

Posted by: asdf on April 22, 2006 11:12 PM

Trouble w/ that mouse-like motivation is that sexual arousal dials down your adrenaline rush (fight-or-flight), which is what you need if you want to get in a good workout. Better to imagine you're running towards that guy you can't stand in order to knock him on his ass. Then check out the girls when you're trying to wind down.

Posted by: Agnostic on April 23, 2006 2:19 AM

I always assume they're mental - but I assume that about everyone. I'm a grouch, and old before my time.

Posted by: Brian on April 23, 2006 3:03 AM

I remember seeing a girl wearing one of those see-thru tops with the handprints on the breasts.

I've always wondered whether it was an invitation to measure my hand size.

Posted by: Jon on April 23, 2006 10:56 PM

What, no illustrations?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 24, 2006 1:22 PM

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