YELLOW stockings were the only pair left in my drawer — unmitigated mustard, fit only for farce. I winced as I pulled them on with this alliteration. Sidling to my table in the restaurant, I felt them radiate broadcast. But Katy took my order with a straight face; nor from the corner of her eye, nor from the corner of her mouth, did she spread the news. I heaved a sigh and released my digestion. As my calves twinkled, like Mr. Fezziwig’s, toward the subway, I came to understand. People looked not at them, but at my thighs. One glance at these was enough to win tolerance for even outrageous stockings. I was instantly classified and rated by my breeches. If I had worn tweeds, the public would have taken the liberty to amuse itself at my color scheme; but army breeches serve as protective coloring. They distract the attention of predatory humor from vulnerable parts. By lacing on the calf, they permit any outer integument whatsoever, and some that they have borne were stranger than mine. Immunity is assured by their symbolism. They say to all beholders: this man is on holiday; and he is going, not to his club, but to that cheaper open air which is indeed open. He is seeking such vacation as may be sought by thousands. Tramper or camper, in whatever kind of cheap travel he chooses, he is to be unmolested. His is the uniform of common freedom. The wearer of this passport may proceed unchallenged.
One heritage, then, of the war promises reconstruction. A costume known in 1916 only as a new uniform has been issued by army stores, true or false, to the whole nation. A million Americans have bought army breeches as the cheapest of all clothes, again as both suiting and suggesting out-of-doors, and then regularly as of proved adaptability. On the same holiday understanding army breeches are accepted for women.
She climbed the wall and followed him.
They even threaten the great American institution of overalls. For while overalls are by common law permitted in public travel only to a workman actually in transit to or from his work, army breeches may engage in interstate commerce. Where will this end? A garb for both sexes, all ages, and all trades, ignoring and obliterating previous condition of servitude to clothes, may be only a holiday garb now; but does it not portend a new freedom?
Such a revolution in dress has not been seen since tailors undid the French Revolution by deceiving a fickle and perverse generation with trousers. The intervening century has been artistically sad. Painting has dissimulated trousers by any sort of masking. Sculpture has fled from them in horror. Only genius — and genius only now and then — has triumphed over trousers in bronze. Journeyman sculpture has either revealed all their essential perversity, or has robed nineteenth-century statesmen in the toga of Cicero. The art of the dance was no sooner recovered than it frankly took trousers off. What can art do with a garb that belies the human form and masks its movements? But the delicious laughter of Mrs. Meynell’s ‘Unstable Equilibrium’ derided it twenty-five years ago in vain. Costume, proverbially conventional, has not often listened to art. Nor dare we invoke art for the application of army breeches to women. The resultant outline lacks something of truth and beauty. For men the artistic case is more obvious; and for either, art urges, not a particular pattern, but more generally the clothing of legs as legs. Even so, art would not suffice. We needed a more compelling sanction.
Now that we have it from the camp and the road, shall we not dress with more courage? Shall we not enhance one another’s courage by rejoicing aloud together? The breeches-bringing bicycle gave hope to the past generation in vain; for the bicycle itself was crowded off the road by the motor-car. The hope from golf has become negligible; for golf no longer promises to penetrate the social mass. But the new hope from army breeches is surely wide enough to warrant a hope for breeches in general. If we must not go to war in trousers, and if we will not go to camp, why must we go to anything? Let us hasten the doom of trousers, after an approved method of publicity, by proclaiming that they are doomed already. Soon may some American prince deserve well of the Republic by wearing breeches and stockings as evening dress. Meanwhile the mass of freeborn Americans can undermine the tottering tyranny of trousers by a method more potent than example, by consentient orders. Let the united orders of these United States, converging by mail upon the Middle West, converge also upon breeches. Gird your loins, ye conservatives! Smite an upstart modernism hip and thigh, and restore the dignity of Alexander Hamilton. Rally, ye radicals, to a cause more liberating than free speech, and far more liberating than free verse — the cause of free legs.