You have probably seen those posts that are going around about how to gird your loins. I had been meaning to post about this anyway because the method in those posts is so frustratingly impossible. And today sophia-sol said “So if anyone out there has better info on how to gird one’s loins, please do share! I’m really curious now!”
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED, SOPHIA.
The method in the other posts is impossible, basically, because there’s not enough fabric in the skirt to actually wrap around your legs that many times. If you follow the hem around, it wraps entirely around each thigh once, and then entirely around both thighs together twice.
Here’s a very messy cross-section if that helps:
1. Pull the fabric tight against the back of your thighs 2. Pull it back between your legs 3. Wrap it back around to the front 4. Tie a knot 5. One more time around to complete the loop since it’s a circular hem.
I got out the measuring tape, and just to go once around each of my thighs and then twice around them both together would require ten feet of hem. Now I’m not exactly sylphlike but my thighs don’t have anything on the quivering thews of an Assyrian warrior about to come down like a wolf on the fold. And that doesn’t include whatever fabrics’s used in the knot (all of which is doubled), any ease with which I could actually move my legs (which would have to be quadrupled), or any extra bulk for the layering or gathering or vertical distance or anything, so I guesstimated four to five yards at minimum needed to tie it.
For the record I have very few skirts with more than four yards in the hem, and I have a fairly large collection of skirts (including historical reproduction gowns from six different centuries.) Even an ankle-length full circle skirt would only be six yards, and an ankle-length full circle skirt would be a freakin’ annoying amount of fabric to have to deal with while fighting no matter how you bundled it up, even in a light fabric. (And I say this as someone who happily went bouldering last weekend wearing a woolen wizard’s cloak. 1.)
But then today I accidentally bought a sixteen-foot-long vintage sari in sheer silk2, and I thought, hey, maybe that would be long enough to do this. So I pinned the two ends together to make it a loop, stepped into the middle, and then followed the instructions. What I got was this (note: all selfies in this post will be sketched over for clarity because my selfie game is v. weak):
So the answer is, no, even with a 16-foot-by-4-foot silk sari it’s not a particularly good way to gird your loins, but it *does* turn into a fairly awesome-looking, remarkably comfortable salwar/hakama-ish leg covering. As loin-girding it has various defects, including: a) it’s still not anything I’d wear into battle, b) I sort of doubt it would work if the sari was gathered at the waist into a skirt instead of just being a 16-foot loop, because I’m using the extra length at the top as well as at the bottom, but it *might* just be possible, c) gathering and tying sixteen feet of fabric is a massive hassle even when it’s sheer silk, and I don’t know if you could tie it even with sixteen feet if it wasn’t sheer, because there was only barely enough left to tie the knot; d) you’ll note that it leaves a rather IMPORTANT AREA uncovered; as a result if you were doing this without underpants you might as well just strip, and if you’re doing it with underpants, why not just take off the 16 feet of silk and wear your underpants into battle.
So then I decided to try it in a more skirt-like style by gathering the top hem in a belt before I girded myself. Here’s what 16 feet of sheer silk looks like as a roughly gathered skirt:
And here’s what it looks like “girded up”:
Oops! There’s suddenly not enough fabric left to tie the knot. The extra bunching and twisting that has to happen because of the gathered waistline means that even 16 feet isn’t enough anymore. Also, despite the fact that it looks loose, there’s so much fabric gathered up there that it restricts the movement of my thighs (and you can see there’s still quite a lot of cloth dangling between my legs which could get in the way.) On the plus side, for some reason the only stance that felt natural when wearing this was with my legs spread and my pelvis thrust forward. So there’s that.
But if Tumblr has lied to us about how to gird our loins, the masses cry out, how do we?
Well, the word “gird” just means to “to use a girdle”. A girdle, as the word was used when the phrase was coined, could be any belt, sash, or similar strip that was wrapped, tied, buckled, etc. around the waist. And “loins” is anything from the waist-to-knee region. At its most basically, “gird your loins” could just mean “put on your sword belt” or even “pls to make sure your pants will not fall down at the wrong moment.”
The phrase has persisted in English mostly via the King James Bible; my understanding is that in those contexts, the “girdle” in question could also be a “loincloth” - a long, narrow strip of cloth that is wound around the waist/thighs/crotch as underclothes or as a minimum modesty covering when you wanted to be as close to naked as culturally possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if in some contexts, you would wrap a long strip of cloth outside your clothes as a sash/girdle, and then strip down and use that same cloth as a loincloth if you wanted to be more naked.
Loincloths, depending on the culture of origin, can very well be many yards long, and with the much narrower width - usually half a yard or so - there wouldn’t be as much bulk even with the length. I haven’t managed to trace the original diagram’s sources at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that method is actually some traditional way of wrapping a loincloth, or a way to take a sari-sized piece of fabric and turn it into full-length leg coverings - many cultures have a basic garment that’s a rectangle or semi-circle of fabric within that range, because there are many many useful ways to wrap it around a body. (Anybody have a 16-foot+ greatkilt and want to see if it works with wool tartan instead of sheer silk?) There are many many ways to tie a loincloth (and drape a sari-sized cloth) and I leave that research as an exercise for the reader.
But enough of that, what y’all really want to know is how to gird up a skirt to make it more manageable when you go into battle unexpectedly, right? I can help!