Lynne Mortimer: ‘You’ve heard of VPL – but do know about VVL?’

A vintage petticoat could save you from VPL. Photo: Alamy

A vintage petticoat could save you from VPL. Photo: Alamy - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

How do you tell your friends they have a wardrobe malfunction or VPL? Our columnist shares her advice

Someone comes up to you and says quietly: “Charlie’s dead.” Do you (a) Say “Sorry for your loss.”? (b) Adjust your clothing? (c) Urgently survey the area, looking for the body?

If you’re from Suffolk and of a certain age, you will know the answer is not (a) to condole in the manner of a television crime drama or (c) to seek an outlet for your CPR skills. It is, of course (b).

“Charlie’s dead” indicates that one’s petticoat (aka slip) is showing below the hem of one’s skirt. It was a common sight in the late sixties and seventies when schoolgirls rolled their waistbands over and over to achieve the desired mini-skirt-look but could do little to affect the length of their slips without creating an unsightly bulge.

It’s not exclusively a Suffolkism, but it was certainly the way we conveyed news of the wardrobe malfunction when I was a teen at an Ipswich grammar school. Other phrases you might have come across include: “It’s snowing down south” or “Mrs White is out of jail”.

This pre-supposes that people – women usually – still wear petticoats. Gone are the days when highly charged synthetic fabrics stuck to your nylons when you tried to walk, creating sparks. Petticoats prevented this friction. They also helped with the crazy itching that occurred when you wore hand-knitted woollens.

Today, although I possess a couple of waist slips, they are rarely used unless I tread the boards (I usually play busybody neighbours) in a 1960s costume drama. Do today’s young women even know what petticoats are, except in a purely historical context?

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At school, when I was forced, pretty much against my will, to play hockey and netball in zero-degree temperatures, I really couldn’t cope with the cold, so I would stuff my petticoat into my regulation bottle-green pants before donning my shorts and sports shirt. All was well until the day the elastic pinged in my knicker leg and the folds of my petticoat, unleashed, slid down my leg. I was given a dressing down by the PE teacher, who spoke from inside the warmth of her quilted jacket, slacks and woolly hat, and sent indoors to take off my slip.

Lately, I have noticed a new trend in underwear visibility. It follows on from VPL – Visible Pantie Line – which, personally, I find reassuring. At least it shows you’ve got some on. There is no doubt a close observer could spot the outline of my ample cotton knickers under my trousers – not, I’m sure, that anyone would find this an agreeable pastime.

VPL can be avoided – M&S does a large range of “no-VPL” knickers. Or you can go commando, maybe just applying a dinosaur sticker to each buttock for modesty. Our grandsons, aged seven, five and two have an endless supply (of stickers, not buttocks). The new dress code I have spotted during cold snaps is VVL – Visible Vest Line. This happens when someone is wearing a vest, thermal perhaps, tucked into leggings or jeggings. However carefully arranged inside pants or trousers, it has a way of riding up, causing a visible ridge in Lycra-based outer garments. I recommend wearing trousers with some breadth in the buttock area to eliminate this possibility. But it can be worse.

Recently, a colleague sidled up to me and announced: “There’s egg on your face.” I looked at her askance. “Your flies are undone,” she said, adding: “It’s what we say up north.” I hastily zipped myself up and wondered what we say down south. I asked a more seasoned trouser-wearer – my husband – what people say round these parts. “Flying without a licence,” he replied promptly, a nod, no doubt, to Suffolk’s proud aviation heritage.

There are other terms but none so elegant as the flying analogy. Some commentators recommend not mentioning it at all but we’re in Suffolk, for goodness sake, we can’t keep that sort thing to ourselves.

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