LC Van Savage
Spat Upon and Other Weirdnesses
Been thinking a lot about spats today. Why? No clue. Just have, that's all. They were shaped fabric pieces men wore; they covered from the ankles down and over the insteps of their shoes and were anchored with a strip of material or elastic running under the arch. Spats were of a heavy fabric, mostly pearl grey or white, (sometimes striped for the more devil-may-care wearers,) and often had a row of buttons along the outside. Generally worn with men's formal or business wear, spats were also called gaiters and sometimes even leggings. But I think those inclined to call a spat a legging would only demonstrate their ignorance, because a legging goes up the calf to the knee, or even over the whole leg, while a spat barely covers the ankle. So you see, calling spats leggings would only result in your sounding like an uninformed muttonhead. Avoid doing that. And why were they worn? Evidently to keep just the middle upper part of the gentry's shoes clean. (Although apparently Fred Astair was unable to dance unless he wore a pair.)
But why the name "spats," you ask. Good question, and after extensive research, here's your answer; it's short for spatterdash, of course. Spatter meaning spatter, and dash meaning spatter. Makes perfect sense.
We humans have invented weird wearing apparel sometimes, haven't we? Girdles come to mind right off, rubberized tubes of pure pain. Undergarments that hurt beyond description and which pushed up great rolls of fat above them, a circumstance negating the point of the slimming objective in the first place. Girdles were something usually unseen, at least while being worn, until Madonna convinced us we should all be wearing our underwear on the outside of our clothing.
I threw in the girdle bit because one can't fill a whole column just on the subject of spats, even with a soupçon of girdles on the side, so I now wish to digress on anther pointless article of clothing. Ready? It's on the other end of a man, due north of his spats. It's a necktie. There is a lot of history out there about neckties, why they started being worn, when and where. When you think about it, they really are an oddball thing to wear, nothing but an outrageously expensive bib for males to knot around their throats before they go to work in the morning. They are frequently colorful and artistic, but they serve absolutely no purpose except to catch a plop of falling spaghetti sauce or blob of gravy, or to drag across one's bowl of soup to float there as one lunges for the mashed potatoes across the dinnertable. They are also handy for your basic tourniquets or making a leash for that huge, foul smelling mongrel cur Dumbrutus of yours who keeps escaping and, dizzy with love, heads pell-mell for your neighbor's pedigreed and eager Maltese, Lady Pfou Pfou.
Am I old enough to remember seeing men in spats? Bite your tongue. I have, however, seen men wearing ties and women wearing girdles. And occasionally, women wearing ties and men wearing girdles. No. I'm too young to have seen men wearing spats. But I do feel that the spats topic begs the question "Why did men wear a piece of material that kept their shoe insteps and socks clean, leaving the toes and heels of their shoes to get scuffed, splattered in mud, covered in street dust and strewn with scratches?" It is one of life's perplexing mysteries.
Perhaps neckties were originally just pieces of material kept lying about the house to wipe off men's shoes, and then someone invented spats so they no longer had to do that. Later on, perhaps that stack of unused fabric strips came to the attention of some suspicious wife who thought it might be prudent to cut them into long strips and knot them, noose-like, about their beloved husband's jugulum, a gentle reminder that they dare do nothing untoward with the local lasses. And there you go, the invention of the necktie. And I'll wager those lasses never once wore girdles.
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