Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Watch out! That bustle is out to get you!

A couple of weeks ago I was idly watching an opera in period costume on television when the thought popped into my head, "There's a bustle in this program." I didn't even know what a bustle was, but I was pretty sure it was in the show. It was a pretty disturbing experience - for all I knew, any moment one of the actors could be leaped upon by a slavering bustle (whatever that was) and ravenously torn limb from limb. Though, in fact, I checked later and found out that a bustle was a type of clothing.

Clothing perplexes me. I've put a lot of it on in the past few decades, but I'm still not quite sure what it's all called. (Sometimes, I'm not even sure where it's supposed to go.) Even now, I see names of items of clothing popping up in books and I have no idea what they actually are. What's a dirndl? It sounds like a random series of constonants that are missing two vowels, though, in fact, it's not. A few weeks ago David's internet boon-companion Nottlesby described to me what spatterdashes, or spats were: I promptly forgot. (They're something to do with shoes, although they are not, in fact, shoes.) Cummerbunds sound like something you go gathering in May, like nuts or strawberries. And homburgs sound like a type of regional German food (they are in fact related to the pork-pie hat). In fact, the whole area of hats is fraught with second meanings: Trilbys (a bird?), boaters (ship workers), Yarmulkes (the kid at school who aces the maths homework), beehive (apparently a hat, though why you'd want to have something like that on your head, God only knows), and chupallas (what the hell?). Then there are wimples, which sound like the sort of thing that wimps wear; and snoods - perhaps what snobs wear?

Underwear you'd think would be simple, but not so. There is perilously little difference between a brassiere and a brasserie. I'm sure many native English speakers visiting France have made the mistake of saying, in French,

"I'm just popping into the local underwear for some coffee."

Which, you know, makes some sense of its own.

And then there are farthingales (surely a type of fence?) and pantalettes (pants for hire, perhaps?). When I visited New York in the winter I was advised to get myself some thermal underwear, but the name sounded horribly alarming, as if people wanted me to wear an oven. So I just ended up wearing my trackies under my jeans.

Perhaps one of these days I'll get around to working out what all of these items of clothing are, and wear one wears them exactly. In the meantime, I'll just have to content myself with living in a world wear people gather cummerbunds in May, chase squatters out of their pantalettes, drink coffee out of women's underwear, and fend off ravening bustles at every turn. It's a dangerous world, but we all have to learn to live with it.


Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, to add to the list of Weird Habiliment:

Trachten jackets (worn when driving a tractor - or a traction-engine)

Lederhosen (leadlined, for people who work at nuclear power plants)

Soutanes (stolen off the washing lines of women called Sue by roving gangs of waggish priests?)

Teffilin (worn to tiffin at Buckingham palace p'raps?)

Gaiters (orthopedic clothing to improve one's jaunty swagger)

Bloomers (a mistake in anyone's book)

... and the grossly mysterious

Muu-Muu (worn by dairy farmers?)

nailpolishblues said...

So I just ended up wearing my trackies under my jeans. I squeaked with laughter at that.

Having seen the photos who've posted of yourself over the years I can honestly say that you certainly look like someone who is quite uncertain about clothing and possibly ought not to be let out of the house without your mother's approval.

TimT said...

Hey, it worked. It was quite snug. They trackies weren't that much thicker than thermal underwear, anyway.

At least I know how to do the bow-tie knot.

Caz said...

"Hustle your bustle" comes readily to mind.

Does that help?

PS. - It's the hat that maketh the man Nails, and Timmy does good hat.

nailpolishblues said...

Ye-es, but a man cannot live by hat alone, Caz.

You have me on the bow-tie knot, Tim, I certainly don't know how to do that. Don't actually want to know either.

Caz said...

We can't be entirely sure of the truth of that: we have never seen Tim in nothing but a hat.

nailpolishblues said...

That's an excellent point, Caz.

colonel eggroll said...

Hey don't forget the Ushanka! :)

alexis said...

Bring back the bustle! There's far too little posterior augmentation going on these days.

Jo said...

People often think I'm wearing a bustle.


TimT said...

Now here's a bustle for you.

And a hearty da, komrade! on calls for the use of the Ushanka.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, what a bustle. It certainly pulls no punches. A-ha. Har. Hmmmm.

TimT said...

I hear you really have to shell out for it though. *Coughs*

Anonymous said...

and it's quite a beach to put on without assistance.

TimT said...

Well, shore run me aground with that last comment and left me stranded.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

What a cove you are old boy! A good pun will always sand on its own two feet, don't you think?

Email: timhtrain - at -

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