In the 2000 AD annual from 1978 there is a story called The Dream Machine. It affected me greatly as a nine year old. It was about a machine which could display dreams on to a video screen. The test subject, Mike Clayton, dreams of flying in a spaceship to the edge of the universe to see what lies beyond. The scientists are rapt, until Clayton disappears in a flash of light and the dream machine explodes. Yet his dreams continue to be beamed on to the display. The lead scientist cannot look away, and is condemned to a horrible death.
The image of him – lying on the floor with his glasses smashed, his eyes frosted with ghastly pimples – has stayed with me over the decades, along with the final caption: ‘Doctor Brenner would never be able to divulge the ultimate secret – it was not for living men to tell!’
Which is a long-winded way of explaining how I feel about the awe-inspiring mysteries of women’s clothing.
Consider, if you will, the humble pair of tights. An incredible invention. Slimming, insulating and they make your legs look good. I should know as I have, on occasion, borrowed a pair and worn them under my jeans to prevent death from hypothermia while watching my boy play football on some frozen wasteland in Oldham. But these simple garments are not so innocent, for they conceal mind-numbing enigmas. The tight is a veritable Chinese puzzle of fiendish hosiery, and I’m not just referring to the Herculean task of getting them the right way round after retrieving them from the washing machine (if they haven’t vanished into the ether… they are, after all, just posh socks). As a teenager going out with a girl who wore tights on a regular basis, I was once asked to buy 15 denier tights from the corner shop before a trip to the pub.
‘What the hell does the want fifteen tights for?’ I thought. ‘How devastating does she imagine this night is going to get?’
Luckily for me, the shopkeeper was a thoughtful soul and quickly put me straight regarding the meaning of ‘denier’. Not a brand name, or type of fabric, apparently. I wish that shopkeeper had been around some years earlier when I spent the best part of a month wandering around in a fog of bewilderment after hearing that my mum had somehow managed to put a ladder in her tights.
But it’s not just the tights. It’s the culottes (even now, when I see a woman in culottes, I find it hard to get the words ‘flared shorts’ out of my head). It’s the ruched sleeves. It’s the buttons on the left. Imagine that! Buttons on the left! It’s the jeans pockets that are about one-knuckle deep. It’s the sizing (a ‘4’ is a thing. As is an ‘18’. Have you ever bought clothes for a woman? Don’t. You’ll get it wrong. I guarantee it). It’s the bras that OPEN FROM THE FRONT.
Actually, don’t get me started on bras. If there’s one item of women’s clothing that has dissuaded generations of men from dressing up in their mother’s clothes, it’s this couture equivalent of a bear trap. What evil mind concocted this satanic, cantilevered chest maze?
‘Did you have to go to special lessons, when you hit puberty, to find out how to put one of those things on?’ I ask my wife one morning as she selects an ‘over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder’ from her horrifying cache.
‘No,’ she says, in a voice just this side of psychopathic killing machine. I’m treading on rocky ground here, yet, like the pilgrim venturing into the wilderness to find nirvana, I must understand.
‘How do you even know how to fasten that thing behind your back? I find it hard enough to unfasten and I’ve got the benefit of sight.’
‘Practice,’ she says, eyeing the various hooks and straps like a master watchmaker taking in the worlds within worlds of a chronograph.
‘I mean, is it even comfortable?’
A warning grunt from the Alpha female. I try to imagine what it might feel like to wear a bra on my testicles. And then realise I’m probably overthinking things.
When my wife begins to minutely adjust the straps of her bra with the kind of finger dexterity rarely seen outside of Rubik’s Cube championships, I realise it is time to respectfully back out of the room.
There are some things men were never meant to see.