Literally. No, really actually literally.
When we used to do conventions (remember those?), I occasionally saw T-shirts that read “People who misuse the word ‘literally’ figuratively drive me insane.”
As a word pedant, I quite understand the sentiment. So in this spirit, I’m going forward with my first personal project of the new year by (literally) looking behind me. At my backside, to be specific.
Warning: if you don’t feel like looking at lots of scary photos of my mono-butt in badly fitted pants, maybe skip this one.
Why the sudden interest in bums?
I’ve been sewing for myself since (figuratively) the first ice age. But most of that time, I’ve focused almost entirely on fitting my outsize bosom and not at all on the other half.
As anyone who’s seen me knows, I was standing at the front when they were handing out busts, and forgot to show up for the booty line. A year ago, you’d have needed a microscope to find my behind. Now, with my pandemic-induced, year-long bout of weight lifting, my buttocks actually exist! They’re a sad, if valiant, effort at actual curves, but at least they’re trying.
And none of my pants fit anymore. Only then, it occurred to me that I’ve never really thought about anything I wear on my lower body. Even my Felix & Kitty design line, which contains a slew of jackets, vests, coats, tops, shrugs, skirts, and cloaks, doesn’t contain ANY pants. Woof. Did it really take me ten years as a professional clothing designer to notice that?
What are “pants,” exactly?
First off, if you speak British English, I mean trousers, not underwear. When I was growing up, “pants” were what Americans and Canadians would call “panties.” Over 25 years after landing in North America, I still giggle internally when I use the word “pants” to mean lower body outer garments with a division for each leg.
I can’t say “trousers,” though, because here in Canada, that means a specific style of pants. There aren’t set definitions, but trousers are generally dressier, looser-fitting pants that don’t cup under the buttocks at all, and have wider legs.
For todays purposes, I will be using the word “pants” to mean something like “slacks.” These are pants that fit fairly snugly over the hips, cup under the buttocks noticeably but aren’t skintight, and have narrower but still fairly straight legs. Basically, something halfway between trousers (in the North American sense) and jeans. You know, the kind of thing you could wear to pop out to the shops or for work in a semi-formal office and look respectable, while still feeling comfy if you’re just lounging at home.
Do you know if your pants fit?
Well, looking around, I’d say that most of us (myself included) really don’t. If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment with me:
- Put on a pair of your regular pants. Avoid anything super-tight or stretchy, like skinny jeans, leggings, or snug yoga pants, because that doesn’t tell you anything about bum fit. Also avoid anything really loose, like palazzo pants or culottes, for the same reason. Just plain old semi-fitted slacks.
- Stand normally without twisting or looking behind you, and have someone take a few pictures of your lower rear view. Make sure they get some close-up of the buttocks and upper thighs. This will NOT give you the same view as just looking at your bum in a mirror. Trust me on this! All these years, I looked behind me in the mirror and thought my pants fit fine (just see how wrong I turned out to be in the photos below).
- Now google some pictures of “how pants should fit in the back,” or some variation thereof. This is probably the best way to find photos of real people with real bodies in properly fitted pants. Don’t bother with fashion photos, which are generally retouched to remove all shadows and lines, and are in NO way representative of how real clothes should fit.
- Compare (2) and (3). If they’re more or less similar, lucky you. For the rest of us, what we see will come as a bit of a shock. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that self-knowledge is always worth having.
I accidentally performed this “experiment” while trying to figure out why the back of *all* my pants kept pulling down when I bent over or sat down. I asked Felix to take rear view photos of a pair of my most recently made pants, and received a nasty shock when I saw that they looked like this (if you’re the sensitive sort, you might want to cover your eyes):
Blurgh. I’m pretty darn picky about the fit of my clothes these days, what with being a seamstress and all, but I’d never before thought to do this. I always thought my pants back looked fine when I glanced behind myself in the mirror! Is this only happening to me, or did anyone else have the same revelation?
How are pants supposed to fit?
From a practical standpoint, your pants should feel secure around your waist and stay in place with normal movement though your entire day, but never feel uncomfortably tight, even when you sit or bend over. You should not need to hike them up constantly; nor should they ride up between your buttocks and give you a wedgie. The pants legs should not get caught up on your calves. The waistband shouldn’t roll or pull down. Basically, you should never notice them at all.
From an appearance standpoint, the front should have no significant wrinkles or drag lines when you’re standing still, and there shouldn’t be any excess fabric or pulling. There should be no evidence of the dreaded “camel toe” at the front crotch area (look this up!). The front of these pants — the same pair as the one above, with the terrible back view — actually fit pretty well:
Depending on the design and fabric, the back may need to have some drape lines for ease, or you might not be able to walk or raise your legs. But you shouldn’t see major wrinkles, “cat whiskers,” or visible wedgies. In a perfect world, the back of your pants falls almost as smoothly as the front, but you still have full mobility. In other words, NOT like this:
How to get pants that fit
I tried it the usual way. I took careful measurements, chose the right size pants pattern, altered it meticulously so all the numbers matched me, and sewed it up. Then I tried again with a different pattern from another pattern company. Then I tried drafting my own pattern from my measurements. This is what resulted:
I tried commercial pants off the rack, which felt like they fit, more or less, from different brands. They looked like this:
Note that while all of these look awful, they also look broadly similar to each other, in spite of the fact that each design comes from an entirely different maker and has different details and levels of tightness. In other words, the wrinkles and drag lines are consistent between all the brands and styles.
This tells me that something about the way I’m built is causing this fit problem, rather than a problematic draft by a particular company or designer. I always knew I had non-standard breasts, but apparently I also have a statistically abnormal behind.
After many, many attempts at fixing the issue, all of which failed abjectly, I finally decided to do what I should have done in the first place.
When in doubt, duct tape
Yes, I turned to my trusty old friend, duct tape. So next time, I’ll go into some detail on how Felix wrapped my legs, bum, and intimates in duct tape to create a custom pants pattern.
This will be Step 1 in the great unicorn pants project, in which your elderly great-aunt Kitty, who used to think she was a highly experienced designer and seamstress, quests for her first-ever pair of properly fitted pants. Well, they say humility is good for the soul!
If you also found the back view of your pants disconcerting (or if you have to hike up/pull down/fiddle with them throughout the day, or they keep trying to crawl up your butt crack or between your legs, or give you muffin tops where you have none), I encourage you to join me on my little quest.
Even if you’re not big on sewing, you’ll learn something about the shape and posture of your own body, and gain an important tool you can use to improve the fit and comfort of your next pair of pants. Since most of us live in pants these days, surely that’s a tool worth having.