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I tried to radiate dominatrix

I tried to radiate dominatrix

Pamela Druckerman discovers a pair of leather trousers can add intrigue to any occasion 

Pamela Druckerman discovers a pair of leather trousers can add intrigue to any occasion 

Pamela Druckerman | February/March 2020

Earlier this year, I bought some black leather trousers on sale. Even at 60% off, they were expensive. But the fact that they were the last pair and fit perfectly (they’re cut more like chinos than skinny jeans) made the purchase seem meant to be. Yet no one else seemed to think so. Over cocktails at a Paris dinner party, the hostess stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Are those leather?” Soon afterwards, at a 50th birthday, an American friend crossed the room and demanded to know, “Are you wearing leather pants?”

I hoped that their shock might be environmental. In an era when you’re supposed to feel guilty for eating a cheeseburger, leather trousers are probably going too far.

But I suspect the main issue wasn’t planetary, it was me. As a woman in midlife, I’m in the leather-pants grey zone – neither young enough to look spectacularly lithe and sexy in them, nor old enough to be crudely seeking attention.

And at any age, I tend to come off as highly strung and overly conscientious. Leather trousers imply that, lurking behind my conventional persona is a secret, wild side, perhaps 50 shades of something. Or at least they imply that I’d like you to think so. At my local café my husband and I spot an attractive woman in her 40s wearing black leather trousers with a polo neck. I ask him what message he thinks she’s sending. “The aim is to signal a dangerous, non-bourgeois sexual edge to what is probably a boring, staid existence,” he said.

In other words, like me, she was trying to radiate “dominatrix” but ended up transmitting “desperate lawyer”. It’s not even her fault. The paradox of leather trousers is that, in order to afford them, you need a well-paid job. And since women’s earnings peak at age 44, there’s a good chance that you’ll be middle-aged by the time you can afford a pair.

Yet I keep wearing mine. There’s the sunk cost and they’re practical: warm, comfortable and smart without being overly fancy. I don’t mind the attention, even if it’s more bemused than admiring. And I can add intrigue to any occasion, just by saying about it, “I wore leather.”

I do still hope the trousers will change me, in the way that forcing yourself to smile is supposed to make you happier. Rather than being cerebral and neurotic, I’ll become prowling and instinctive. And I start to suspect that cynics like my husband are wrong. As I observe a larger sample of women in leather, I detect a shared self-assurance and detachment. A lady in what may be pleather (plastic leather) black trousers, working at the post office on a recent Saturday morning, seems to be saying, “I’ll stamp your packages, but my real life is elsewhere.” There’s a bravery too: we’re willing to risk showing how hard we’re trying.

I ask my American friend from the party what he really reckoned to my outfit. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, we can still do that!’ I was impressed and inspired,” he immediately says. “Just because we’re in our 40s doesn’t mean we can’t rock leather pants.”

A week later, he emails to invite me to his own 50th birthday, on a boat docked on the Seine. “Prepare your leather slacks!” he writes. If he’s lucky, I will.