On Wednesdays, I usually have dinner and a movie night with one of my sisters. In a recent comedy we watched, a character’s attempt to trounce some villains was thwarted by the pocket of his pants. They caught on a doorknob, causing him to take a pratfall instead of leap on the bad guy.
We both found this funny, not because we’re particular fans of slapstick, but because we’ve both been hurt, or at least seriously let down, by our clothing on multiple occasions. And I’m not talking about the outfit that is just a bad idea from the get-go—the one that causes your waitress to inquire if you’re a member of a religious organization, or random strangers to ask you what aisle the pet food is in. I’m talking about actively malevolent clothing that puts you in some very bad situations.
After we finished the movie, my sister and I played a treacherous fashion game of “Can You Top This?” and, I believe, I emerged the winner.
I opened the bidding with my tale of the time I was at work, seated at my desk and wearing a dress with a long, full skirt. I scooted on my chair to the filing cabinet near my desk to retrieve a file. But on my return scoot, the chair came to an abrupt halt. My skirt was caught in the casters. Not only could I not propel myself forward, I couldn’t even stand up. My dress, with its billowy swath of material, had become so entangled it forced me into a half-crouch, from which I tried to lift the chair to free the hem, which the wheels held in a death grip.
It was even more awkward and harder than it sounds. I managed to extricate enough fabric to allow me to sit down beside the chair to work the rest of it out. I didn’t manage a dignified response when a colleague spotted me through my half-open office door and asked what I was doing. Just before she started laughing uncontrollably.
My sister countered with an insidious garment story of her own. One day, alone at work and wearing a very slim pencil skirt, she pushed back from her desk—which was located in an open office configuration, separated from visitors only by a counter. Her chair flipped backward, leaving her staring at the ceiling with her lower limbs straight up in the air, imprisoned by the taut grip of her skirt. Urgently trying to right herself before anyone came in, she discovered that her straight skirt gave her no mobility. She couldn’t lower her legs. Only by bracing her arms, heaving her hips and flinging her body to the side was she able to get out of the dead bug position. From there she emerged upright, but shaken. And no one was the wiser. Until now.
But I had the winning entry with my tale of a city commission candidate, a pair of slippery shoes and, again, a desk. (Perhaps it’s not the clothing, but the combination of office fashions and office furniture that lies at the heart of our tales of woe.)
As a managing editor, I had invited all the candidates for the local city commission to interviews in my office at the newspaper. I was newly in the position and eager to project professionalism, confidence and tough-minded journalism. I chose a business-like outfit with practical pumps, no frivolous shoes for me. When the first candidate arrived, I ushered him into my office, seated him and stepped behind my desk to start the interview. It was then that my cruel shoes let me down. Abruptly and literally.
The soles of the shoes were unexpectedly slippery on the hard plastic mat beneath my chair. In a nanosecond, I was lying on my back, gazing at the underside of my desk. I don’t know who was more astonished at my sudden disappearance from view, me, or the would-be commissioner. I scrambled out from under my desk as quickly as I could, but I’d lost both my dignity and my ability to conduct a serious interview. Plus, my toe really hurt. He was kind enough never to speak of it again.
There are, sadly, more such stories involving car doors slamming on trench coat belts, scarves caught in drawers and swing coats causing unfortunate accidents on stairs. I will not go into them here. I will, however, say that I am seriously considering titling my next book Dangerous Clothing. Not compelling at first glance perhaps, but it would be a darker tale than one might think.