Acquired Tastes, XXXXIV: Cut-Offs
I did not want the summer to go by without touching on one of my all-time favorite items of clothing. No, cut-offs are not exclusive to the gay community – plenty of straights, male and female, don them (advisably or not) every summer. Maybe it’s just all that porn from the seventies, but I think there is some indelible link between cut-offs and classic gay male imagery.
As fashion statements go, cut-offs are definitely on the low end of the scale, frequently associated with rednecks, hillbillies, the poor, and the like. And then there is the matter of the cut. Cut too long? Not exactly sexy. Cut too high? Then it depends if you have the body to carry it off. Also, cutting cut-offs too high can render them rather feminine-looking, which sort of defeats the whole blue collar/boys of summer appeal one might be going for.
And yet, the cut-off has endured.
So, let’s take scissors to denim, run them through the washer a couple dozen times, and slip into something truly comforting and comfortable, as we examine the eternal appeal of…
Scope of Activity:
An examination of cut-offs and their appeal to and subsequent link to gay males and their image.
The Official Line:
The term cut-offs actually refers to a type of jacket turned into a vest as worn by motorcycle bikers.
Cut-offs: Home-made by cutting the legs off trousers, typically jeans (known as denim cut-offs), above the knee. These were particularly popular in the early 1970s. The cut is not finished or hemmed and the fabric is left to fray. They became so popular that they were sold in stores as such. Originally a practical use for trousers with worn-through knees, they are now a type of shorts in their own right.
The ultra-short version of jean cut-offs are also known as Daisy Dukes, in reference to Catherine Bach's character of that name from the American television show ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. They are a form of hot-pants or short shorts.
The character Tobias Fünke from the television series 'Arrested Development' is also known for wearing cut-off jeans as an undergarment.
I think cut-offs awaken the exhibitionist in all of us. Typically, they are rather revealing and worn as a means of achieving a certain level of (hoped for) sexiness.
They are also, when worn with work boots and a work vest, a means of conveying a tentative connection to the world of the blue collar worker (remember the Village People!)
Then there are those bottoms who wear the feminized version know as Daisy Dukes in an effort to advertise sexual availability, something accomplished due to the tiny, thong like strip of denim that runs along the bottom of the ass crack. (Hey, somebody must find that sexy, right?)
Don’t. Just, don’t.
Put down those scissors. Refrain.
And if you must, please no higher than mid-thigh. And trim those fringe-like-strings that form at the bottom of the leg opening. That was sexy in the seventies… probably. And then maybe only in porn. You don’t want to end up looking like you escaped from a musical production of ‘L’il Abner’.
Yes, I owned a pair; one single pair that I wore as a youth, until I was twenty. They were cut just above mid-thigh and had lots of soft, white, fringe-like-strings that hung at the bottom of the leg opening. I loved these cut-offs, because they were from a favorite pair of jeans and had a button fly! Button flies were the bomb. They made my junk look great. Also, I have long legs, so that was another reason I liked wearing these shorts. Plus, they fit like a glove.
When you’re young, you can get away with all sorts of ill-advised fashion choices. In my experience, cut-offs become ever more unforgiving (and unforgivable) as one ages.
19070’s gay porn was filled with images of California boys running around, strutting their stuff wearing these shorts. Fly-away haircuts, orange tans, bushy mustaches, and cut-offs are synonymous with what passed for sexy in the gay community during the seventies. And, once I discovered this genre during the mid-haties, I must confess, I fell in love with every tantalizing strand that hung from those leg openings.
I think I stopped wearing my cut-offs once I saw the Village People on ‘American Bandstand’. That construction worker was not my idea of sexy and it kind of spoiled cut-off’s for me.
In the early eighties, I was doing summer stock. My last year with this particular production house was a nightmare, partly of my own making and partly because of the people involved (lots of alcoholics). There were a lot of behind-the-scenes fights, tiffs, and grudges being played out. It was ugly. The artistic director, a horrendous alcoholic, was rather jealous of me for some reason. He was abusive and very unprofessional throughout the season. I was in the midst of a period of rather severe depression due to my grappling with being gay and still reeling from the ending of my very first true love which happened a year and a half before this. I spent most of the summer hiding in the light booth, chain-smoking and giving the bare minimum.
Each summer stock season would end with a children’s show, a show typically given little in the way of budget or stage time; it was considered a necessary piece of drudgery.
In the past three seasons, I was always part of the cast and my fourth year was no different. I was to play a talking rock. The director of this particular production was the talking head on the nightly news of the local affiliate. She never came to rehearsals, leaving things to her assistant. I figured, if she didn’t have to come to rehearsals, I didn’t either. Wrong. I got fired, for the first time in my life. I felt horrible.
I was the lighting designer for that season. By that point, I cared nothing for the three shows up and running (one of which I had a lead role – a bedroom farce). As a performer, I hit my marks, got my laughs, and delivered as promised. But as a lighting designer, I phoned it in. For the children’s show I had handed the reins over to this seventeen-year-old I will call Hiram.
Hiram had been around this particular summer stock company as long as I had. I’d watched him grow from a precocious child to a geeky, pimple-ridden, gawky adolescent. Hiram had some habits that drove a lot of the company insane. He hit on all the women, no matter their age or married status. He was frequently, horribly inappropriate and almost always sexually suggestive. He wore the same pair of dilapidated tennis shoes at all times and a pair of the skeeziest cut-off’s I have ever seen. A total perv, those cut-offs had what appeared to be strategically made rips and holes in places that allowed him access to… whatever it was that got him off. What with his unruly mop of reddish/golden curls and a pair of over-sized glasses, he reminded me of a near-sighted, socially maladjusted, predatory golden retriever. Today, whenever I see the character ‘Snot’ on ‘American Dad’, I think of Hiram.
For the children’s show, I had told him he could run the lighting board. Now that I was not in the show, I had nothing else to do but sit in the booth and smoke (I had to be there, it was in my contract). While running cues on the board, one late afternoon, Hiram must have been having some kind of adolescent sexual meltdown. He stood very close to me and as I explained the various settings, presets, and cues, he kept pressing his rather impressive bulge into the front panel of the lighting board. Yep, Hiram may have been a loser in many respects, but when it came to the junk department, he had been truly blessed.
That said, this whole scene was rather gross. The dude reeked of semen. It was obvious to me that he had to be beating off every chance he got. And those cut-offs he wore? They left nothing to the imagination. Had Hiram been remotely reasonable looking or normal in any way, I might have said something. But I was in a foul mood and totally aware that he was under-age, so, I just kept explaining stuff, giving him the occasional sideways glance as he proceeded to grind his junk into the side panel of the lighting board. It was like watching a puppy hump someone’s leg.
I finished my tutorial, handed him my notes, and left. Throughout the run I sat nearby, watching him. When certain actresses appeared on stage, that humping/rubbing of the light panel would commence. In a way, it was truly mesmerizing, and in other ways it was simply disturbing.
Needless to say, between the Village People and Hiram, my love for cut-offs was over, and I do believe it was shortly after that mine hit the trash bin for good.
Do they make you cringe? Or is it a matter who’s wearing them? I have a feeling it’s the latter for most. This particular fashion choice is definitely a case where most shouldn’t, though many do.
They certainly are not as popular as they once were, but still, on rare occasions I will spy them on some older dude cruising a local park. They always make me smile, because it reminds me of a time when sun-bleached, fly-away hair, and orange tans ruled.
In those pre-AIDs days, there was a boldness and, dare I say, an innocence that has been permanently transferred in my mind to these tattered, worn shorts. When I see them, they fill me with a yearning for a time when being gay and sexually active didn’t have a heavy, threatening cloud hanging overhead. But then, as it turned out, ignorance was not bliss…
…at least not in the long run.