It happened today - April 7, 2016

On this date, April 7, back in 407 AD, Honorius issued a decree against pants. You can guess how that turned out.

OK, perhaps my last statement could stand a little clarification. First of all, Honorius was a Roman Emperor as the Western Empire approached its final agonies. And he is generally regarded as having been a worthless nit who did nothing to avert the calamity. Not that he could have done much, but you might at least try. (He’s also the guy who withdrew the legions from Britain, leading to the famous “Rescript of Honorius” exchange on the right of Britons to govern and arm themselves; for more on that see our forthcoming documentary on Canadians’ Right to Arms.)

Instead Rome was sacked for the first time in 800 years on his watch, in 410. Or lack of watch. Indeed, there’s a possibly apocryphal story of Honorius, in the new capital of Ravenna, being told Rome had perished and freaking out because he thought it was a favourite chicken. Gibbon rubbishes this story but it’s revealing that it stuck to the man, who was emperor for a surprisingly long time, 28 years (plus two as co-emperor with his father).

So what about the pants? Well, the thing is that in 407 he banned the wearing of “barbarian clothes” in Rome, namely pants. Later it would be men in skirts who were thought barbarian, as the Scots can testify. But back then if they were sewed together between your legs you were regarded as a menace.

Not entirely unreasonably, given that barbarians would start treating Rome like a torch a few years later, relighting it constantly. But by the time you’re really alarmed at how many people have come to live in your society who by their very dress as well as their manners indicate unmistakably that they consider you decadent, weak and ripe for the plucking, it’s likely that it’s too late to take a firm stand even if you are better equipped for such acts than Honorius evidently was.

In short, by the time you need that sort of law, it probably won’t work.