Sometimes clothes are just more trouble than they’re worth.
Some of the best family stories I know are about apparel that went awry. This month, I asked my parents and my aunt to contribute their favorite clothing conundrum memories (which have been retold at family gatherings dozens of times). They were happy to oblige.
When my mom was first married, she worked for a small payroll company in Florida, owned by a member of her church. “Mr. Mullis was an older and very respected businessman in the community. He tended to be quite serious on the job, always wearing a smart business suit and a professional demeanor. One day in particular, I commented on his new tie. I remember that detail because it was the only time I ever complimented his clothing—and it was also the last time I saw that tie. You see, we had a heavy-duty paper shredder in the area for manufacturing payrolls. From my desk in the back corner, it was just within my line of sight. And I was the only employee there during lunch hour that day when my boss began to shred something. The problem started when his dangling tie fed into the shredder as well. He was already leaning over, and then the machine started to pull him down further as it consumed his tie. I watched him pick the shredder up in a panic, but that didn’t slow the progression of the tie. By the time he had decided to reach for the plug, he had nothing but the knot of his tie left. Though I had witnessed the entire event (which was perhaps the funniest thing I’ve ever seen), I pretended at the moment of electrical cut-out to have just looked up. I feigned an expression of concerned shock, trying my best to help him maintain his dignity. But it’s impossible to look dignified with a machine hanging from your neck. I hurried to his assistance with a pair of scissors, and we shared a brief moment of amusement over the situation. Then it was back to business as usual (minus the tie).”
As a teenager, my dad had many entertaining adventures; this one never fails to inspire laughter. “My friend Russell and I usually came up with wild plans to entertain ourselves. Once, we decided to check the acid levels in his father’s old car battery. I sat on the floor and steadied the battery in between my legs, holding it tightly while I pried on the reservoir lids. Thankfully, they did not budge. With that great idea a no-go, we decided to apply our energy to other things. Fast forward a few days; during my 3rd period art class, I noticed a strange windy feeling. Air was moving inside my pants. After a nervously-performed check, I saw my pants looked secure. I continued school baffled but somewhat cooler. Between classes, while walking in the hall, I felt it again. Had I become a portal to another dimension, and the galactic winds of outer space were swirling in my drawers? My zipper was up—check. Nothing appeared to be unusual. However, at home that night when I investigated this bizarre phenomenon, I discovered that most of the rear of my pants was missing. I found light-colored spots in the corduroy fabric which crumbled when I touched them. It was simple. Elementary, my dear Watson. The car battery had leaked acid on my pants, slowly disintegrating the fabric. What appeared to be business-as-usual was actually a ticking time bomb. The spots crumbled, increasing my ventilation with each class. Try not to be jealous.”
My dad—13 years old
It was just another ordinary Sunday morning for my then-fourteen-year-old aunt… “There was a scurry of activity, along with an upheaval of clothes scattered about, as we created the perfect ensemble for church. After much trial and error, my mom hurriedly decided on a pair of pants and sweater. We arrived at church in the last second of appropriate lateness and made our way to ‘our’ pew near front and center. It was a particularly sentimental service, hearing the heartwarming and tear jerking story of orphaned children in a traveling singing group. As most of the congregation grabbed their handkerchiefs to wipe away the tears, my mom grabbed for an unusual lump of fabric on her thigh inside her pant leg. I had the privilege of sitting next to her, and she tapped my shoulder to point out the abnormality. She furiously tugged at what was discovered to be a rolled-up mess of pantyhose that had somehow snuck into her change of wardrobe. Without hesitation—or any attempt at discretion—she began to dig into her pant leg and pull out what seemed to be an endless mile of pantyhose, stretching far above our heads. Now the entire row was involved in the spectacle as she continued to stretch the elastic-like material. Her face expressed a level of shock as she realized that this was no small extraction, and the bystanders were many. As a young teenager, I wished the humiliating moment would pass. One by one my family tried to hold in the laughter, but it was unavoidable. At the climax of the song, we erupted in laughter as my mom unearthed the final foot-shaped end of the pantyhose and it flung limply in the air. Alas, the extraction was complete, but the laughter would continue for months and years to come.”