Once upon a time, on a dusty counter in a small haberdashery store, there lived an old 1941 catalogue for McCall’s patterns. And right at the very back of this catalogue, further back even than the Boy’s and Men’s section, there lurked a tab simply marked Miscellaneous. It was here where all the exiled patterns dwelled that had no other place to live. And tucked away almost at the very end of that pattern purgatory, there, banished into obscurity, dwelled the only two patterns for the elusive TROUSER…
Ha! Isn’t that odd? For some reason here the pattern illustrators seem to have painted themselves into a quandary. Perhaps they realised that they couldn’t illustrate their glamorous models wearing blouses or sweaters or tops with these trousers, for that would imply that these garments could be made from the same pattern. (And all manner of lawsuits might ensue.) But for some reason they chose not to just illustrate just the leggy lower half of these models, despite that being their method of dealing with the plethora of skirt patterns in the catalogue. To cut to the chase, they chose bizarrely enough to illustrate the models wearing NOTHING AT ALL on top, apart from a few carefully placed props. But, BUT, lest the viewer be scandalized that these models were wearing nothing under that strategic hat or bag, they gave their models flesh coloured underwear. And then promptly wiped their paintbrushes with satisfaction; propriety had been maintained!
In a slightly random way (because today seems like a restless and random day) this “false modesty” reminds me of a painting by Victorian master Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It’s called the Baths of Caracalla, and actually I’m reminded of it very often because a poster of it is hanging in our bathroom:
I’m showing you this not to drool over the light blue fabric swathed around the central brunette (although I covet it often and wonder what fabric it is) but to invite your attention to the bathers in the background. I remember a visitor once commenting on “the naked men hanging in your bathroom”, and it took me a couple of seconds to realise they were talking about this poster. I had to break it to them gently that the poster was not as exciting as it seemed and that the nakedness was an illusion. For most of the men are actually sporting flesh coloured loincloths, or the Roman equivalent of nude underwear. Again, propriety had been maintained :)