"The first time I did the No Trousers Tube Ride, a man in his sixties sitting opposite me said sternly: 'Young man! What are you doing in your pants?' I told him, and he said, 'that sounds splendid!' Then he pulled down his trousers and sat with them round his ankles for the rest of the journey!" I am talking to Farhan, one of the group leaders of this afternoon's No Trousers Tube Ride. We are sitting in The Chandos on St. Martin's Lane, recuperating with a beer, after three hours of parading around the London Underground — and beyond — in our pants.
"The Tate curator came up to us and asked if we were making rival artistic statements!"
It's the UK's 10th anniversary of the event, and while trouserless-travelling might seem to have a distinctly British quirk about it, the event actually originally began in New York as the No Pants Subway Ride, in 2002. Brought to London by the Stiff Upper Lip Society, this is Farhan's seventh pants-only expedition. It's an honour to make his debut as a leader this year, he says.
"I brought my 14 year old son last time. He loved it."
The event, as you might imagine, consists of shed loads of Londoners taking their trousers off for a casual Sunday commute. However, what I didn't realise is that participants pop up for air at various tube stations, taking trouser-free detours to various London landmarks. Later today I will feel the breeze beneath my boxers on a stroll across Tower Bridge, and Farhan tells me they once ended up in the Tate Modern where, "the curator came up to us and asked if we were making rival artistic statements!"
But sight-seeing in our smalls comes later — first we gather fully clothed in Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery. "With Christmas and New Year over, and nothing much 'til Easter, this brightens up a cold, dark January," says a guy on my right called Jon, who's done this twice before. "I brought my 14 year old son last time. He loved it — he's gutted he can't be here today". At this assembling stage, I cannot see Jon's ahem, chosen attire, so I ask him what he's got on under his trousers. He says: "Some figure-hugging black boxers that complement my physique!"
"My fiancé dumped me at the end of last year and I wrote a fuck-it list — like a bucket list — of 100 fun things I wanted to do over the next year"
Standing behind me are Megan and Mariusz. "I moved to London in September and heard about this on Secret London," says Megan. She tells me she has pictures of avocados all over her knickers, along with the slogan Avo-Nice-Day. "I thought I'd wear the weirdest ones I've got so it's entertaining!" she explains. Mariusz, who was happy to be roped in by Megan, says he's wearing black and red stripy boxers to match his red jumper. "They're not new, but I don't think there are any holes in them," he assures me.
I turn to Sam, who's by himself and doing this for the first time. "I'd heard about it taking place on previous years, but I never would have done it. Then my fiancé dumped me at the end of last year and I wrote a fuck-it list — like a bucket list — of 100 fun things I wanted to do over the next year. This was one of them!" Underwear not yet unveiled, Sam tells me he's wearing pants with puffins on them. "I chose them because they're fun — and because I got a puffin tattoo two weeks ago!"
"We opt for a guy who's holding aloft a yellow brolly — the Mary Poppins of Pants"
Nearly 400 people signed up for the event on Facebook, and it seems as if pretty much everyone's turned up. But we won't all be getting the tube together. Instead, we divide ourselves into three or four groups, following whichever leader we fancy spending the afternoon with. My friend Anna and I opt for a guy who's holding aloft a yellow brolly — the Mary Poppins of Pants — as does pretty much everyone else.
"There's no other reason to take your trousers off in everyday life!"
As we walk up Haymarket, towards Piccadilly Circus, I talk to Sue, who's with her Shih Tzu Edie. "Well I had to bring somebody, didn't I?" says Sue, who tells me her husband and kids all declined when she asked them to join her. She gives me a peek at her pants which are pink and lacy and says: "I'm going to be 60 in two weeks, so if I don't do it now, when will I?"
Vivian, from China, is doing this for the first time. She's nervous but wants to do it because she thinks it's funny, and, "there's no other reason to take your trousers off in everyday life!" She spent an hour selecting her knickers for this, and chose the winning pair because, "they look good and they match my clothes!" Vivian is flanked by a fully dressed friend who is following her to take photos.
"This is the British humour, so while I am here, if I do what they do, maybe it will make me feel at home!"
Inside Piccadilly Circus station, I spot some camouflage print undies, which belong to Michael. "I chose them so no one can see me!" he laughs. He’s taking part for the first time after seeing the event on social media, and he's with his wife who's wearing skinny jeans. She explains: "I'm under the weather at the moment, but I want to take part next year!"
The idea was that we'd all get on a tube and take off our trousers when given the signal, but our group is so large that the plan has gone off-piste. In the crush of semi-clad people trying to get to the platform, I speak to Vam, who tells me she came with her friend, but they've already lost each other. Having recently moved here from China, Vam is doing this for the first time. She explains: "This is the British humour, so while I am here, if I do what they do, maybe it will make me feel at home! I am nervous though — for Asian people to do something like this, we need more courage!"
"I went for whatever was clean..."
I meet Rose when we come up for air at Canary Wharf, and she tells me she's by herself: "I asked one friend if she wanted to come, but she said she'd rather die!" Rose chose her knickers because, "they were the only ones in my drawer that weren’t see-through!" Speculating that she may be in the throes of a mid-life crisis, Rose says: "I came to live in London two years ago, and I thought this event is so randomly mad and British, I've got to do it! The whole event summarises London because it's people from all over the world coming together in a moment of madness!"
Naomi has wanted to take part since she moved here from Australia three years ago — but she had no one to do it with until her friends Sarah and Rachel moved here recently. Naomi has chosen knickers with doughnuts on them, "because I wanted something ridiculous." Rachel says, "mine just had to be black," and Sarah explains: "I went for whatever was clean, but I strategically chose this coat because I wanted something to cover me!"
As we head to Canary Wharf's DLR, I talk to Jasmin who says it's her New Year's resolution to have more fun and let her hair down. She didn't have any qualms about getting her kit off. "I'm enjoying it — why wouldn't I want to do it?!" Jasmin chose her knickers on the grounds that, "they're not too showy, so they won't offend anyone — small Bridget Jones's are fine!"
"In Australia we used to take our trousers off but in London we can't — that's why we wanted to do it!"
On the DLR to Tower Hill, I spot my first family. Australians Gemma and Julian have brought daughters Indie, eight, and JoJo, six. Indie tells me: "In Australia we used to take our trousers off but in London we can't — that's why we wanted to do it!" The entire family shares a relaxed attitude to choosing their undies for the day. "This is what I always wear — I've got 30 pairs of the same pants," says Julian. "These are the only ones I've got that aren't see-through," says Gemma. "I just went in the drawer and picked them," says JoJo. "I was so tired yesterday, I just slept in my clothes," says Indie, who confirms that she is indeed still wearing yesterday's pants.
I have long lost Anna in the throng, but following the barely covered bottoms along the river, I bump into Craig, who I've previously interviewed about his various adventures. By himself, because his friend turned up too late, this is Craig's sixth No Trousers Tube Ride. He tells me he's wearing the same purple pants as last year, because, "the ones I ordered haven't arrived. They're a novelty pair. You know the game Fortnite? These say Fartnite!"
Heading to Monument station for the last leg of the journey, I meet Chen who's doing this for the first time. He's by himself, but he's made friends with Vivian, and he tells me the atmosphere has been really friendly. "I wanted to experience it because we can't do this in China. Here we're free to do what we want — it's so different. I've really enjoyed it. It's been amazing!”
"I am pretty pleased to make it back to pub, where no one's bothered putting their trousers back on"
Chen, Craig, Vivian and I have somehow lost the several hundred other people we started the afternoon with. It's only really now, as a cut-off quartet, that we start to notice the attention we're attracting as people-in-pants, in January, on the underground. And so I am pretty pleased to make it back to The Chandos pub where we instantly fit in, as no one's bothered putting their trousers back on.
Here, I talk to Ivan, one of the other leaders, who's been involved in around eight No Trousers Tube Rides. Ivan favours more reserved conduct from his entourage than the Mary Poppins of Pants, who instigated impromptu squats and lunges at station platforms. Of course, I'd picked up on this vibe at the start of the afternoon, and like all the press, I opted to join the "fun" group. But actually, I think that with all our flamboyance we may have missed out on the essence of the event. "It's not about pointing, laughing, showing-off and taking photos," says Ivan, "it's about behaving as you would on a normal tube journey so people double-take because they're unsure what's happening." He adds, "my shirt covers my pants so people can't be certain that I'm actually wearing any — that's even better!"
With thanks to British Boxers for covering up my bits.
Samantha Rea is a freelance journalist living in London. She can be found tweeting here.