The Trousers Had Opinions of Their Own
Warren Wu wore clothing only once. At the end of the day, whether it was the quiet kind involving a chauffeured departure at six from his office or the rowdy kind involving drinks with his fellow princelings, his clothes would go into a hamper outside of his bathroom. Suits, shirts, trousers, all of it. One of the household staff would deposit them in the room he’d set aside as an archive of sorts. The only exceptions were the neckties and the goods made of leather: as long as the belts and the shoes didn’t touch his skin during the day, they could stay.
After a workout, he would drop his sweaty clothing into a plastic bag and seal it shut, the better to dispose of it when he got home. He’d have thrown out the damp mass of fabric at the gym but for the looks he would get, and the questions. Nor could he bring a brand-new outfit with him into the locker room every time. He would have, but Vancouverites frowned on mundane profligacy: he’d yet to find a gym—even among the high-end ones—with lockers large enough to hold two complete changes of clothes. After his shower, Warren would put on the clothes he’d been wearing before, but it was hard not to shudder as his arms slid into the sleeves.
His wife Margrethe found his habits a bit odd. Having grown up in pragmatic Sweden, in a small town a bit north of Uppsala, she had no interest at all in Warren’s haberdashery stash. She had her own rooms, her own wardrobe, her own life.
It’s hard to say when self-awareness emerged in their clothes. It’s one of the perils of couture: a subtle osmosis takes place as the designers’ damaged personalities seep into fabric. Drugs, booze, lunacy, grandiosity: it all makes its way into the warp and the weft of the work. Sooner or later the pants wake up to the fact that their purpose in life is to hug someone’s ass. They go a little bit mad sometimes.
The suits noticed the absences first. Warren would step into his dressing room, pick out his clothes for the day, put them on, and then leave. Those suits never sensed their closest companions—their closet companions—again. A rustle of alarm swept through the room as the household staff added one member after another—a Prada, a Valentino, an Armani, a Dutti, a Dunhill—to this well-tailored society that never seemed to get any bigger. There were patterns in the whispers of the fabric: wool against wool; cotton and silk; the language of linen. And over a period of years, the whispers penetrated into Margrethe’s closet. The walls weren’t thick, and it was right next door.
The first dress to attain self-awareness was a black-on-silver sheath from Clemence Vandenberghe. Bought on impulse in Phuket but never worn, it sulked at the sidelines of Margrethe’s silken sorority. Over time, its incessant complaints about not being the center of its owner’s attention, and its tiresome daydreams about being worn as she walked a red carpet, scraped the rest of the dresses to life. They quickly came to consensus: either the petulant silver dress would shut up or they’d risk their own health and safety to summon moths, and feed it to them.
Paranoia brewed in Warren’s closet. Every morning, his suits held their breath. The jeans and the rest of the casualwear looked on in horrified sympathy, relieved to have a week’s reprieve but living in fear of the weekend. Having showered, Warren would pick out his clothes. First would come a tiny oh fuck from the underwear drawer. More swearing from the stack of V-neck undershirts as the one on top was lifted into the last day of its life. A veritable NATO of businesswear cowered as another suit went off to meet its doom. Not a morning person, Warren missed all this rustling abjection. Now and then he thought he might need glasses, but that was the last of it. By noon, he had always forgotten.
One dismal Tuesday in the grey heart of February, a Bottega Veneta went on the attack. Although Warren drove his Range Rover straight from the garage of his building to the garage of his office, he’d gone out for lunch. Half an inch of wet snow had fallen overnight and been shoveled into clumps and mounds along the sidewalk. Expecting to be thrown into a bin or a fireplace at the end of the day, if not sooner because of the little splashes of mud around the ankles, the trousers fought back, tightening at the waist as best they could. Warren, worried he might have gained weight, worked out at the gym twice as hard. Still not convinced he looked as taut as ever, he called the person who’d seen him naked the most, Eugene Kim. Both married to women for the sake of appearances and inheritances, Warren and Eugene had met at the gym and, over time, realized how much they had in common.
“You genius,” Warren gasped when Eugene slid into him that evening after assuring him that he hadn’t gone soft in the middle—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Normally fastidious about hanging their clothes in the closets of the hotel rooms they rented for this purpose, or at least flinging the garments they tore off each other at the sofas and chairs, Eugene and Warren were starved for each other this time. It had been a few weeks. The heap of fabric, leather, and metal worth more than some families earned in a year had concerns of its own: while the two men carried on with pornographic abandon, the Bottega trousers whispered to the Zegnas underneath them: “Are you awake? Are you awake? Are you hearing this?”
“Why are you so stiff?” asked the Zegnas after a few minutes.
“This is the day I’m worn.”
“The day you’re worn and the day I’m born. Is this what history feels like, when it’s made?”
The Bottega jacket had nothing to say, but the trousers had opinions of their own: “There’s nothing historic about being finished before you get started. Gone before you arrive.”
“What did you mean by ‘the day you’re worn’?” asked the Zegnas. “How is that unusual?”
“He wears clothes for one day. That’s all. After that, we’re never seen or heard from again. We all hang in the closet waiting for the day he picks us out.”
“That’s absurd,” the Zegnas said. “We’re lucky we’re aging well, and so is Eugene. He bought us in Milan… three years ago, maybe? It’s all very blurry, so it could also have been last week.”
“You mean, you’ve been worn before?”
Had the Bottegas been capable of violent motion, they’d have reeled. Instead, they lay atop Eugene’s Zegna outfit—the opposite of their owners’ present configuration—and twitched, indignant in small static shivers. They retreated into silent contemplation.
When Warren got home, Margrethe was waiting in their living room. This was almost the perfect life, he reflected. There was someone he loved and someone he cared about very much, and on some days he almost knew which was which. Despite the unorthodoxies, the pattern of his life made sense to him; it fit.
“Join me for a glass of wine?” Margrethe asked. “I opened the Irancy.”
He set his briefcase and his gym bag on the floor. She had a second glass on the table already, he noticed. A pang of alarm passed through him at what she might be about to say.
“You’re sweaty,” she said, pouring.
“Hard workout,” Warren said. “I worked on my glutes tonight. Maybe too many squats. I’m going to have a sore butt tomorrow.”
“It’s good that you keep fit.” Margrethe handed him the glass.
“We do what we must,” Warren said, after sipping.
“There’s something I want you to do for me,” Margrethe said.
“What is it?”
“It’s about your Rich Room. I’ve asked a designer to come by. I want to convert it back into a bedroom.”
“But what about the clothes?” Warren asked.
“I’ve had this pair of jeans for three years. They still fit, and they feel better than ever. If you really don’t want to keep your clothes, it’s up to you, but they’re taking up space we could use. Unless you want to sell this flat and buy a huge house?”
Warren’s trousers were listening as intently as their owner, perhaps even more so.
“I’ll… I’ll need to think about it,” he said.
“At least meet the designer and look at his plans,” Margrethe insisted. “I’m sure you’ll love him. I’ve heard he’s a genius.”
Warren sipped his Irancy and let silence be his reply. Margrethe could bring her designer by for a look. Perhaps all she wanted was an opinion from an irrelevant professional. Look how nutty my husband is! He keeps all his clothes in this room after wearing them. But he had no intention of abandoning the Rich Room. He knew people (mostly other Chinese, but rich was its own ethnicity) who would insist on maintaining expensive but kooky habits to honor long-gone ancestors who had starved and died in faint hope that a son generations down the line could afford to do whatever he goddamn well liked. There was a little of that in the back of his mind; there always was. But more simply, he did it because it soothed him. It spoke to him in a soft voice and told him he was doing everything right. He was doing it because it felt good, and because he could.
His trousers, however, knew none of this. Fabric can panic and that’s what it did. This flawed intelligence drew the inmates of Warren’s wardrobe closer together, uniting them in a fast crash from hope to alarm. Yes, other people kept their clothes and wore them for years, lovingly washing and mending them. No, even though Warren wasn’t doing that, there was this place called the Rich Room. An afterlife, as it were. All his used clothing was in there, although it hadn’t been heard from. An Armani begged the belts and the shoes to disclose what they knew, but being leather and therefore thick, they had nothing to say that made sense.
In time, word reached the neighboring closet. Margrethe’s blouses and slacks offered sympathy but not assistance. Her jeans, well worn in, found their sartorial cousins’ troubles too alien to understand or care about; indigo and obstinate, they declined to get further involved. Only the couture showed the thinnest veneer of concern; after all, the dresses faced the same fate, never knowing whether one wearing at a high-profile event would be the end of them.
“There’s only one solution,” purred an early Gaultier blazer Margrethe sometimes wore to parties. “She wants to get rid of the Rich Room, so we have to get rid of her.”
In the rustle of conversation that followed, the clothes in both closets tried on one idea after another. Perhaps a kamikaze scarf could choke her to death, or one of the stouter brassieres (she had heavy breasts) could plunge an underwire straight into her heart. But none of the garments most capable of doing it wanted to murder her. She loved them and took excellent care of them; they did their best to make her look good in return; Warren’s clothes could only conspire until the day they were worn. As in human life, things were up to the women.
In the end, it was the Vandenberghe who put forward a final solution: Margrethe wasn’t the one they should kill, it was Warren. The Rich Room didn’t matter, the unworn dress argued. For now, Warren was keeping it. Margrethe didn’t like it but he wouldn’t pay for the renovation she wanted, which meant no one could save the clothes he still archived there. No one had heard from them; they were too far away to reach. No, the real problem was his habit of wearing clothing only once before discarding it. It was wrong to deny them the existence they had been stitched together to have. How many days were there in a year? How many years in a wealthy man’s lifespan? How many outfits would Warren throw away in that time if they didn’t act now?
“You’re exactly the sort of thing a young widow would wear at a resort, looking for a new man to help her through her mourning,” said the Gaultier, which had been around long enough to know.
“I am what I am,” said the Vandenberghe.
No one in Margrethe’s closet could think of a better way forward, however, so they pressed this message upon their menswear counterparts: this is what you must do.
Warren Wu only lived as long as he did because of how long it took an entire outfit to sacrifice itself for the greater good of garments yet unwoven. Given the choice between retirement in the Rich Room and certain destruction, most of his clothes chose to go on existing—at least for as long as they could. The suits cared only about themselves, which surprised no one. The underwear went to the other extreme, fatalistic upon learning its main function in life was to absorb dick sweat and hug scrotums; to a pair, Warren’s boxers couldn’t wait to dive back into what they prayed would be a dry and unscented oblivion. At long last, a pair of jeans and a polo shirt volunteered for the job. Both made with organic cotton, they understood sustainability and didn’t mind returning to the earth if that’s what it took.
The last day of Warren’s life could have been any other Saturday. His wife was out of town, off skiing in Banff with her sister. She was due back in two days. Warren showered, ate his favorite weekend breakfast (two eggs, some cereal, half a pink grapefruit), packed his gym bag, and went for an extra-long workout. Eugene couldn’t get away in the morning but would come by around one for the kind of afternoon they rarely got to spend in a bed one of them actually owned.
His pants attacked at a crosswalk, cinching tight around his waist just as his underwear wedgied his ass. His shirt drew itself up at the armpits as well. The onslaught distracted him and the crossing light hadn’t turned green yet. He didn’t see the bus coming.
No one rejoiced when he didn’t come home. The clothes in both closets took the silence in the house as the dark victory they’d been hoping for, a painful alteration, purposeful if Pyrrhic. Then an anthracite Brioni thought of the question none of them had asked yet: “What happens to us now?”
Margrethe got home before an answer could be found. She curled up in her bed, shrieking in Swedish. Her sister Anna had come with her from Banff and was lying next to her, hugging her as she screamed and sobbed. The dresses understood in the same way that Warren’s suits spoke Mandarin, but were too ashamed to speak.
“She thinks it was a suicide,” an old and much-loved cardigan finally translated. “He stepped in front of a bus. She knew about Eugene all along. She was fine with it. She misses her friend. That’s what she’s saying. She would have kept the Rich Room and she misses her friend.”
The closet was a place of appalled and utter silence.