This really happened to me in a bar bathroom on a Sunday night:
GIRL: Oh, I love that shirt! Who made it? The green is so good for you. Where did you get it?
ME: Thanks! It’s Umsteigen I think. I got it at Lemon Lime but that’s out of business now.
GIRL: Well, it’s a great shirt. I need your opinion—I decided to wear two pairs of underwear tonight because my roommate said these were too sheer [pulls down first pair of red, boy-style undies to reveal multicoloured, semi-sheer, lady-cut panties]. What do you think? You can’t see my pubic hair can you?
ME: No! You’re fine.
She dropped the first pair of red undies to flaunt the sheers as I followed her back to the dance floor. It was, of course, Montreal’s eighth PANTS OFF Party (POP), where the pants check is mandatory and I, too, was in my best bottom-barers.
This bare-leg bonanza happened at the Blue Dog, the St. Laurent Boulevard venue where most of the parties have been held since they began in April 2002. The idea for the party came from a joke between Helen Simard, Solid State Breakdance Collective dancer and co-owner of the Studio Sweatshop dance studio, and her friends. They used to heckle each other to drop trou, and once somebody finally did, there was no stopping them from taking it to the public.
The first official party was both a Solid State fundraiser and a birthday party for Simard. Now the event is hosted by the No Pants Posse (essentially, Simard and the Blue Dog staff), the Kops Crew (a group of urban artists, promoters, musicians and DJs) and another crew, Doggy Style Sundays. The first few gigs were pants-optional, but the PANTS OFF organizers quickly realized that gotchies were the great equalizer and pants-check became mandatory.
Then, as I was dancing, a strange thing happened; I sensed all around me some of the greatest body pride I've ever been exposed to.
My friends and I arrived around midnight to a nearly empty bar and dutifully handed over our pantalons. As we got used to the breeze on our thighs, I feared the night would fizzle due to lack of attendance but I was soon proven wrong: by 1 a.m. the dance floor started to boil as remixes of mid-nineties hits jacked up the energy.
Most of the ladies were dressed to impress, sporting a variety of boy-cut basics. One of my friends wore tacky-chic, leopard-print and –and pink-lace panties, and I even spied a pair of pink-and-green frilly knickers worn with large-weave fishnets. Generally, the guys risked less—while there were some nice boxer briefs, quite a few of them wore very safe standard-issue baggy boxers.
There were extremes from both genders, like the woman who wore panties, a homemade belt, gold hearts on her breasts, and a mesh shirt overtop. There was a guy wearing an assless jockstrap and a classic white tank top; and—my favourite—the man wearing thick black frames, a blazer and a black, studded cock pouch.
The power of the moment came from the context, which was simultaneously sexy and somewhat desexualized. Quite impressively, I caught no one ogling anyone else's backside, and any bump-and-grind was done in jest as lads can’t hide their stiffies when wearing boxers half-designed to let them shine. When people did invade each other’s personal space, it was never for long and done with humour. A no-tolerance policy toward people making others feel uncomfortable reinforced the legitimacy of the party as a fun event, rather than something destined to break down into a massive orgy.
It took me a while to warm up to busting a move proper, but once I did, all bets were off, and I was shaking it like I had pants on. Then, as I was dancing, a strange thing happened; I sensed all around me some of the greatest body pride I've ever been exposed to. We were a mass of different body types and parts: big thighs, little thighs; booties big and small; bellies; long arms, hairy arms; short legs; long torsos; bald scalps and long hair. And it didn’t matter. By jumping around in our underwear, it seemed we were ripping through the shame induced by the unrealistic body types that are constantly used to sell things.
It is about people who think it’s hilarious and understand it’s not a voyeur-pervy swinger thing. It’s about having good, clean fun in your underwear.
As it happens, freedom from pants is a movement embraced across North America. A group in Austin, Texas, celebrates “No Pants Day” on the first Friday in May and has done so for the past five years. This year, a group in Winnipeg caught on and ran around promoting pantslessness to the glee and bafflement of fellow pants-wearing citizens. This past January was the fourth annual “No Pants! Subway Ride” organized by Improv Everywhere, a theatre group in New York City. More than forty-five people rode the subway de-pantsed and switched cars to join other pantsless players to the bemusement, embarrassment and bafflement of onlookers. As if that weren’t enough, other actors posing as “pants merchants” hopped on the cars to sell people their pants for a dollar.
Given that showing up for work sans pantalons seems to be a popular nightmare, and “getting caught with your pants down” is a colloquialism for being unprepared, POP's success appears unusual. Being caught in your undies should be a blush-worthy embarrassment, and yet I saw no attendee getting red in the face, since everyone at the party knew what they were in for. Pantslessness became the norm rather than the exception, and being pants-free was absolved of its negative connotations.
Across North America, PANTS OFF works because it is highly ironic. It’s about doing what you’re not supposed to do in solidarity with others who are also into the wink-wink nudge-nudge of lighthearted social deviance. It hurts no one and may even make a few people feel better about themselves—or at least give them a good story to tell.
The PANTS OFF Parties also work because they’re still relatively under the radar. Parties are held on Sundays and Mondays because nothing happens on those nights and having the gig on an off-night helps weed out those looking for the potential Saturday-night sloppinessof sexy ladies and gents in their unmentionables. There is, however, a certain crowd that the event does attract. As Simard put it: “It is about people who think it’s hilarious and understand it’s not a voyeur-pervy swinger thing. It’s about having good, clean fun in your underwear.”
And shaking your ass to the best of its beautiful ability.
No one knows when the next POP will be, but chances are good it'll be held somewhere other than the Blue Dog. The POPs are usually organized on short notice with very little promotion, so if you're that dedicated, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and be ready to ditch your pants on a dime.
Melissa Wheeler is a Montreal news and arts journalist who used to breakdance until she decided it was too bad for her knees. You can hear her report on the weekend traffic on CJAD 800.