Explorations in abessive clothing

(about bodies, mostly men’s, and the exposure of parts of those bodies, either by complete absence of an item of clothing, or by the absence of part of such an item; there will be plenty of male buttocks on view, and there will be discussion of men’s bodies, sometimes in street language — so not to everyone’s taste)

About items of clothing or parts of such items that are missing, lacking, absent.  (I’ll explain the adjective abessive in a moment; it does some of the work of the English derivational suffix –less or the preposition without, but is of wider applicability.) Two topics in this area are standing preoccupations of this blog: (re: absent items of clothing) male shirtlessness; and (re: absent parts of items of clothing) the assless / bottomless / backless nature of jockstraps.

The actual entry point to this posting came on Facebook on 5/9/19, when John Dorrance asked about the first use of assless chaps and Season Devereux  responded ,”Aren’t all chaps assless though?” To which I replied:

Yes indeed. The assless in assless chaps is an appositive, rather than restrictive, modifier — used to remind the hearer that chaps do in fact lack an ass, or to emphasize this fact in context — cf. appositive ‘chaps, which are assless’ vs. restrictive ‘chaps that are assless’, which is pleonastic.

It will take a little while to work up to chaps as abessive clothing: in this case, an item of clothing that lacks one of its parts (they’re assless) — in fact lacks two, since they’re also crotchless (chaps are essentially outerwear leggings of leather, held up by a belt).

Exploring abessive clothing quickly can take us far afield, and I’m not sure at this point how far I’m willing to go, so I’ll just dig in and see what happens. Come walk with me.

The adjective abessive. From OED3 (Dec. 2011) on the adjective abessive:

Designating, being in, or relating to a case in certain Finno-Ugric languages, esp. Finnish, which expresses the absence of something.

First thing: the reference is to an inflectional case form, available at least for nouns (and perhaps also for modifiers of nouns), and since it’s inflectional, in principle available for all nouns.

Second thing: the abessive is a local, or concrete case (vs. a grammatical case), with concrete semantics (glossed in English ‘missing, lacking, absent, -less’), like the comitative case (conveying ‘along with, accompanied by’) and instrumental case (conveying ‘by means of’) and opposed to a case that marks syntactic function (like nominative case, canonically associated with grammatical subjects; accusative case, canonically associated with grammatical direct objects, etc.).

Third thing: historically, abessive has been used only for certain Finno-Ugric languages, but of course it’s available as the label for a case with this semantics in any language.

[Digression on terminology and semantic content. From Wikipedia, on this case:

In linguistics, abessive …, caritive [or] privative … is [the name of a] grammatical case expressing the lack or absence of the marked noun. In English, the corresponding function is expressed by the preposition without or by the suffix –less.

The name abessive is derived from abesse “to be away/absent”, and is especially used in reference to Uralic languages. The name caritive is derived from Latin: carere “to lack”, and is especially used in reference to Caucasian languages. The name privative is derived from Latin: privare “to deprive”.

abesse and carere are stative intransitives, so abessive and caritive are good names for a case of absence or lack. But privare is a change-of-state verb, and would be best used for a case of (inchoative) loss or (causative) removal.

My 10/26/19 posting “The caritive”, reports the announcement of a conference on caritive / privative / abessive constructions (not just case forms) — using the case names as (alternative) labels for the semantic content associated with the cases, but also expressible in other ways, and also suggesting a refinement of this semantic content to distinguish absence of something from lacking it from being missing it (with lacking and missing involving the expectation of it, while absence is neutral in this regard):

Caritive / privative / abessive constructions cover a range of meanings that are, or at least can be, discriminated by lexical means: the range from neutrally  not having something through lacking something expected to being missing something crucial.

(Compare The statue has no head / The statue lacks a head / The statue is missing its head.)]

Fourth thing: once we have the adjective available as a label for a concrete case, it’s open for metaphorical extension to other domains — in particular the clothing domain, where it could be used to refer to clothing that’s missing, lacking, or absent, or to clothing with some part missing, lacking, or absent. And this turns out to be a useful metaphorical extension, providing us with a one-word term for familiar concepts that can be named only awkwardly in ordinary English.

So: welcome to the world of abessive clothing, of two types, which I’ll refer to as the shirtless type (with reference to the wearer of an item of clothing, conveying that they are without this item, that they do not have this item on, that they are missing this item) and the assless type (with reference to an item of clothing, conveying that it is without some part, that it doesn’t have this part, that this part is missing).

The two model adjectives, shirtless and assless. With illustrations both routine and extravagant.

shirtless men. Displaying their torsos. First, routine examples:

(#1) Surfer dudes Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper in a tv ad for their 4Ocean company

Then, something raunchier:

(#2) DVD cover for a Raging Stallion gay porn flick; the cover is about, among other things, male torsos

assless jockstraps. (That’s appositive adjective assless, since jockstraps by definition lack an ass.) First, a routine example, of a relatively canonical jockstrap:


Then something playful in neon pink:


And, finally, something outrageous in pink lace:


A few more examples.

— type SHIRTLESS: (under)pantsless: – (going) commando; shoeless – (going) barefoot(ed); braless (of a woman)

— type ASSLESS: sleeveless (of shirts); midriffless / bottomless (of shirts) – in crop tops; crotchless (of lower-body garments of many sorts)

On some of the abessive vocabulary. I’ll start with the various nouns bottom and some of the abessive adjectives bottomless.

bottom, bottomless. From NOAD:

noun bottom (usually the bottom): 1 [a] the lowest point or part of something: the bottom of the page | she paused at the bottom of the stairs. [b] the part on which a thing rests; the underside: he sat on the bottom of an upturned bucket. [c] the ground under a sea, river, or lake: the liner plunged to the bottom of the sea. [d] the lowest surface on the inside of a container: place the fruit on the bottom of the dish. [e] the seat of a chair. [f] the lowest position in a competition or ranking: he started at the bottom and now has his own business.[g] the basis or origin: there’s a mad scientist at the bottom of it all. [h] (also bottoms) the lower half of a two-piece garment: pajama bottoms | a skimpy bikini bottom. [i] (bottoms) another term for bottomland. [j] the lowest part of the hull of a ship, especially the relatively flat portion on either side of the keel. [k] archaic a ship, especially considered as a unit of transport capacity. 2 chiefly British the buttocks: he climbs the side of the gorge, scratching his bottom unselfconsciously. … 5 vulgar slang a man who takes the passive role in anal intercourse with another man.

Add to this (not in NOAD):

bottom 6: the part of a garment that covers a person’s buttocks [metonymy from bottom 2]

And then:

adj. bottomless: 1 [a] without a bottom: plant mint in a bottomless bucket sunk into the ground. [b] very deep: the cold dark sea in whose bottomless depths monsters swam. [c] (of a supply of money or other resources) inexhaustible: I don’t have a bottomless pit of money. 2 naked below the waist [i.e., lacking a bottom 1h]

Add to this (not in NOAD):

bottomless 3: (of underwear) lacking a covering for the buttocks [from bottom 6]

bottomless 4: cropped at the bottom [from bottom 1a] (i.e., lacking an expected bottom — the sense in which crop tops are bottomless, hence baring the midriff; see my 8/2/18 posting “Male crop tops!”)

From bottomless as applied to underwear — in which bottom ‘buttocks’ is evident — we go to two rough synonyms, one (backless) lacking any sense of carnality, neutral in tone, one (assless) incorporating the vulgar slang ass ‘anus; buttocks’.

back, backlessNOAD on the noun back:

1 [a] the rear surface of the human body from the shoulders to the hips … [e] the part of a garment that covers a person’s back … 2 [a] the side or part of something that is away from the spectator or from the direction in which it moves or faces …

To which we must add a metonymical sense not in NOAD:

1g the back [in sense 2a] part of a garment

Then the adjective backless:

(of a woman’s garment) cut low at the back: a backless lycra dress. [from back 1e] [looking ahead a bit, label this sense [b]]

But, not in NOAD, a more general sense of backless for garments:

[a](of a garment) lacking its back [in sense 1g]

Now we have the usages in which jockstraps can be said to be backless (by definition), and chaps as well (again by definition). Or bottomless. Or assless.

ass, assless. To start, the briefest of stories, on the noun ass-2 in NOAD:

North American vulgar slang [a] a person’s buttocks or anus. … [roughly corresponding to BrE arse]

Then a fuller treatment from OED2 on the noun ass-2:

1. a. A person’s buttocks; the bottom, the backside. Also: the anus; the rectum. Also occasionally: an animal’s rump, anus, or rectum. [1st cite a1672] b. The bottom or rear of an object. [metaphorical; 1st cite 1700] c. The part of a pair of trousers which covers the buttocks; the seat of the trousers. Also occasionally with reference to other garments. [metonymical; 1st cite 1888; representative cite: 1978 E. Rossi White Death A large German Shepherd dog .. proceeded to tear the ass out of his snowmobile suit.]

For the adjective assless we need to tap the resources of OED3 (Sept. 2018), which marks the item as “orig. and chiefly North American“:

1. Lacking buttocks, esp. prominent ones. Also: designating a walk, etc., in which the movement of the buttocks is minimal or not emphasized. [1st cite 1965; notable cite: 1966 Gilbert Sorrentino Sky Changes He’s flat, straight as a plank from his neck down to his ankles. .. An assless wonder.] 2. Of clothing: designed to expose the buttocks; lacking a part that covers the buttocks. [1984 Another Chicago Mag. A pair of assless and crotchless black spandex tights, these to go with his black engineer’s boots. 1996 Spy Prince .. wears assless pants. 2010 M. Knowles In Plain Sight All I had to wear was the thin, assless hospital gown.]

Sense 2 is the abessive-clothing sense. and it’s used especially for lower-body clothing  that normally has the buttocks covered. This is the world of backless / bottomless / assless tights, briefs, shorts, jeans, trousers, whatever. Just four examples from the enormous number that have appeared on this blog:

(#6) From my 6/4/17 posting “Pride Time #3: On the menswear watch”:

Like chaps, but they’re shorts. Well, jockstraps are backless by nature, and there are also backless thongs, backless briefs, and backless singlets, as well as backless pants, and all of these things  are available in leather, so why not backless leather shorts? Indeed there are — I suppose we can call them chaplets — and on the Ducati motorcycle guy in [#6], they’re very fetching.

(#7) From my 10/17/18 posting “PUMP!ing it up”: the Creamsicle Access Trunk by PUMP!

(#8) From my 3/31/19 posting “Moon shorts 1: the Moons”: Moon Shorts by Barcode Berlin, with see-through mesh rear, in yellow

(#9) Bottomless boxer briefs on a model who works under the professional name Cristiano Lorenzi

Back to chaps. Now we cycle back to (assless) chaps, where all this began. From Wikipedia:

Chaps … are sturdy coverings for the legs consisting of leggings and a belt. They are buckled on over trousers with the chaps’ integrated belt, but unlike trousers, they have no seat (the term “assless chaps” is a tautology) and are not joined at the crotch [that is, they have no crotch either]. They are designed to provide protection for the legs and are usually made of leather or a leather-like material. Their name is a shortened version of the Spanish word chaparajos. Chaparajos were named after the chaparral (thick, thorny, low brush) from which they were designed to protect the legs while riding on horseback. Like much of western American horse culture, the origin of chaparajos was in the south of Spain, from which it then passed on to the part of New Spain that later became Mexico, and has been assimilated into cowboy culture of the American west. They are a protective garment to be used when riding a horse through brushy terrain. In the modern world, they are worn for both practical work purposes and for exhibition or show use. Chaps have also been adopted for use on motorcycles, particularly by cruiser-style motorcycle riders.

… Chaps are also popular in fetish fashion and the leather subculture, where they often are tightly fitted and worn without jeans or other garments layered beneath them other than a codpiece. They can be made of leather, patent leather, rubber, or vinyl and are worn for decoration serving no protective purpose.

First, some chaps designed for motorcyclists: Harley-Davidson men’s leather chaps, worn over jeans:

(#10) Front view: crotchless

(#11) Rear view: assless

And now, from Mr-S-Leather, for gay men, outside-zip leather chaps:

(#12) Front view, with a leather codpiece concealing but advertising the wearer’s dick

(#13) Rear view, exposing the wearer’s ass

By the way, well-made gear like this, using high-grade leather, is not at all cheap.

Future thoughts. This closes the original topic, but in collecting this material, I came across topics clearly related to this one, namely verbs of absence, loss, and removal; plus the verb moon ‘expose ones buttocks’ and the act of mooning.  Possible topics for future postings. But not today.


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