Seattle and New York celebrated No Pants Day this January. In London, it’s called No Trousers Day. To be accurate, the Brits also have a No Pants Day later in the year, where underwear remains at home and people just wear the trousers. Either time, no one is allowed to show or wear anything that can get them thrown off the tube or subway and sent home like naughty school-kids. Banned are thongs, jock straps, ass-less chaps, whitey-tighties or see-throughs. That’s my winter wardrobe out the window, then . . . oh, bummer. If you’ll excuse the pun.
Photos taken by bored commuters or disowning friends have had a chance to surface on the web. I took a look to try and gauge the reaction to No Pant Day here in the UK compared to its counterpart over in the more “up-for-it” US. Here are some of the Seattle and London pics. As expected, it’s all boxer-shorts, bare legs, buttocks and brave people pretending to look relaxed….
I think some actually are relaxed, which is impressive. It never fails to amaze me just how unfazed your average tube traveller can be.
So, what’s the bottom line? Pun intended. Well, the No Pant trend started in New York and has been going 11 cheeky years. It was set up by a group called “Improv Everywhere” back in 2001. Their tag line is the apt, “we cause scenes”. They’re comedians, a self-styled “prank collective”. When I read that, I immediately liked the sound of them. No Pant Day is a fun outing that helps people realise the simple fact that unique things can happen. It’s a way of opening up the rail system and city spaces like a theatre, where anyone can rebel against the dress code. Of course, photos get taken, but Seattle No Pants organisers – or “generals” as they like to call themselves – recommend that friends of the participants refrain from taking too many snaps to allow the pant-less folk to “get into character”. According to Improv followers, their No Pant scenario is just one of their ‘things’. They also do Swimming Pool Poker, Cell Phone Symphony and are known to “rock out” (presumably with their socks off?) with class act Ben Folds. [If you don’t know Ben, cop a listen to a few of his songs on Spotify. Rockin’ the Suburbs and In Between Days are two of my favourites. I’ve been a fan for a long time. In fact, you’ll only get the socks thing if you’ve heard this guy live. He’s a superb pianist and singer/songwriter who uses subtle humour in his lyrics to make his music entertaining, real and seriously uplifting.]
The Improv’s annual Black Tie Beach event looks so good I’d like to attend. Planned as a one-off “mission”, it proved popular enough to repeat. People from all walks of life dress up, go to the seashore, relax and “play out”. It’s simple, but how many of us have replaced playing out with working too hard and how important is basic fun in our lives anymore? Amazing idea. By all accounts, the best bit is when you dive into the sea in your ball gown or tux. Even a 90-year-old lady did it. Sydney, Australia and Malmö in Sweden have already taken the plunge to have their own Black Tie Beach. Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere (which can also be read Improve Everywhere if you look at it as one word and ignore the missing ‘e’), is what I call a “character”, which is fair because he is a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in NYC. For his promo photo, he’s wearing a suit and has a professional haircut, but is wearing gorilla gloves, holding a half-peeled banana and looking amusingly thoughtful.
Events like No Pant Day have been going for more than ten years and that particular day out has a whopping 50+ city following and a 4,000-strong NYC troop, so what’s the underlying reason? Can it really be just a cultural phenomenon, based on fun and awareness of the anything-goes-if-you-let-it idea? Or is there a cause; a deeper purpose? It appears to be the former. Where I was looking for a charity, a youth support group, a homeless person’s shelter to donate to, the prank collective are people who just want to cause laughter, confusion and chaos in everyday situations. It’s all about sharing “absurdity”. Is it theatre? Maybe. More interestingly, I don’t think it matters. These people might want to alter our emotions, challenge our perceptions or make us think – or perhaps their aim is to allow us not to think and just be. I like the no frills way an idea like a trouser-less tube can make people pause and reassess reality. They might choose not to care, but this still has the power to stop them doing exactly the same things they would have done every day that week, month or year. It’s scary how repetitive everything can become when the rules get too ingrained. Us Brits, for example, are renowned, to put it optimistically, for our reserved attitude to the naked form and even life in general, according to some commentators. I think our reserved attitude is now a cliche, but still, body image gets talked about a heck of a lot in the UK considering how unimportant a bit of a curve here or there really is, although apparently even athletes can have issues with body image, too. It’s a strange world.
In my eyes, anything that encourages us to reassess our obsession with materiality, body image, fear of people seeing the real ‘us’ and the myriad, fun-less tasks we feel compelled to carry out on a daily basis has to be a good thing. And, if it gets commuters talking on the notoriously dull, stuffy London tube, it’s worth its weight in knickers. Bye-bye stuffiness, hello no trousers day.