Noel Coward famously declared that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. He would surely be amused — or possibly appalled — by the sight of people sunbathing in parks across Britain this week attired only in their unmentionables. Temperatures are rising in Britain in the grip of a heatwave, and tempers are also rising as many flee work early to catch some rays and, not having brought bikinis or swimming trunks to work, opt to strip down to their underwear. Some people are outraged. “I don’t really want my grandchildren seeing that type of behavior,” said Stockport’s Dave Mason. “I really wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone lying in a park with just their briefs on.” However, Rian Ormond from Manchester doesn’t have a problem with it, depending on the underwear. “If it was something quite normal then I can’t see what the problem is … If they had an Ann Summers crotchless type affair then that would be a touch odd,” he said in what is possibly the most British way of discussing lingerie.
The debate also took place on social media, taking a turn into the realm of semiotics. It’s about connotations,” writes Will Wister on Quora. “Underwear connotes the state immediately prior to nudity, so if someone is wearing underwear, that person is essentially saying: ‘Look at me I’m almost nude.’ Swimsuits connote swimming at the beach or at a pool. The wearer is saying: ‘It’s so hot and I just went swimming or might sunbathe later and I’m too lazy to change.’ So it has nothing to do with the amount of the body the clothing exposes and everything to do with what the clothing signifies.” Roland Barthes would be very proud.