The Importance of Being ClothedOn October 13, 2021 by Elyse
While it’s important to be earnest, we all know what happened when the emperor ordered new clothes. Priorities, people. On a scale of embarrassment, getting caught with your pants down is right up there with failing gym class, wearing a hat in Parliament and getting your hair stuck in flypaper.
What’s even worse, however, is going down in history exclusively for this lack of apparel like the unfortunate individuals below. We all want to be remembered for something, but personally, I hope my legacy is more along the lines of charming blogger (“lame” works too) than dress code violator.
If this was the worst thing to happen to Patrick after swimming in Lake Michigan, he lucked out:
Trousers of Policeman Patrick Brogan, Evanston, stolen while he took a dip in the lake. Rode home on bicycle wearing towel.– The Day Book, August 12, 1916
I bet this wouldn’t have happened to fashionista Verna Elliott, inventor of the thief-proof knee watch.
Somebody was out to get poor Patrick because less than a year later, he made the papers again:
Patrick Brogan, Evanston cop, took girl to dance at North Side Turner hall. Some one stole his hat and coat.– The Day Book, April 2, 1917
Did the Underwear Thief find a new target, or was this the world’s best practical joke? At least this time, Patrick came home wearing presumably more than a towel.
Not all missing clothing was intentionally stolen—probably:
A few days ago a woman’s garments were found by some young men on the bank of a secluded stream near Dayton, O., neatly arranged in a pile. The owner not being visible the idea of suicide at once suggested itself, and this theory was strengthened by the discovery in a pocket of the dress of a tender and touching love-letter addressed to “My darling.” The clothes were taken and delivered to the police.
While I strenuously disapprove of rifling through strangers’ belongings, if I found a dress with pockets lying around, I’d take it, too.
The next day a young lady of Dayton, accompanied by some friends, appeared at the police headquarters and claimed the garments, explaining that she was bathing in the stream at a little distance from that point where they were discovered, and that she could not conveniently appear to prevent their removal. The clothes were returned.– The Watertown Republican, July 10, 1878
Suuure she was. . . I bet she just heard a dress with pockets was up for grabs.
If you’re one of the lucky few with the confidence to pull off nudity, feel free to ignore all of the above:
Mary Ann Gibson, charged with [drunkenness], was unable to appear [at Swansea Police Court] for very personal reasons. She had in her cell thrown off all her clothing, and was now sitting there in the costume of Eve, declining to dress. The case had to be remanded till to-day.– The Weekly Mail, September 26, 1903
Believe it or not, that wasn’t the last time inappropriate attire postponed a trial:
Addressing the [Brentford Police] Court, Mr Travers Humphreys asked for an adjournment under peculiarly unfortunate circumstances. Mr F. E. Smith, K.C.,M.P., he said, had been instructed for the defence, but unfortunately Burley-on-the-HiIl, the country house where Mr Smith was staying, had been burnt down the night before. Luckily, added counsel, Mr Smith had escaped, but all his clothes had been destroyed, and he could not attend court until a further supply had been forwarded.
“It would not be courteous,” added counsel with a smile, “for a learned King’s Counsel to appear in court in a dressing-gown.” The magistrate agreed, and granted the adjournment asked for.– The Cardiff Times, August 8, 1908
Fun fact: One of the other guests staying at Burley-on-the-Hill that night wrote about the fire in a letter to his fiancée: “The fire was great fun and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. It is a pity such jolly entertainments are so costly.” That jovial writer was none other than Winston Churchill. I’m not sure the pajama-clad Mr. Smith and the owner of the house shared his definition of “jolly entertainments.”
Let’s review what we learned today, folks. If someone is pranking you and/or you possess a coveted dress with pockets, swim with your clothes on to thwart thieves and guard against whatever is floating around in the lake. On the other hand, if you need to get out of jury duty, toss and burn those clothes, preferably without taking the whole house down with them. Unless you’re Winston Churchill.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.
F. E. Smith (later the 1st Earl of Birkenhead) was one of Churchill’s closest friends.
Aaah, so that’s the connection! Thanks for the context!