Last week, I learned on my own why older men do that thing, when they sit in chairs or hunker down, where they pluck up the thighs of their pantlegs with their fingertips. I was at home. I think I was cleaning. I don’t remember how I put 2 and 2 together, but I put them together: it keeps your waistband from sliding down your ass.

Now: far be it from me to keep men from showing off some of that ass whenever they bend over. Plus low-rise pants are very 2010, so this may stop being a problem for a while.

I can’t quite figure out the physics of it. I think it’s that the knees pull at the pants when you sit, or maybe the ass does? The thing with plucking up the legs, like this guy here is doing…

…is that it seems to distribute excess hanging-leg fabric toward the groin, so that the waistband stays in place no matter what shape you’re bending into.

I’m 41 years old. For ever, I didn’t understand why older men did this, and at the risk of embarrassing myself, I assumed it had something to do with what I heard often in jokes: older men sometimes sit on their testicles. Is it true? Is it only while wearing boxers? I imagine I’ll learn the hard way someday, and as I’m 41 that day might be sooner than I think.

One effect of plucking up the pant legs is that it tends, almost paradoxically, to tighten up the groin area, or maybe one’s bulge gets tucked in by the pant’s fabric, like a toddler at bedtime. So the move shows off a bit of the goods, for better or for worse, like in this photo of Lord Grantham:

(Mrs. Hughes nonplussed as always.)

Why I’m even bothering with this post is that nobody ever taught me this trick, neither my father nor the hundreds of issues of men’s magazines I’ve read since I turned 20. (Not that it’s a tool of the patriarchy or anything; I imagine the physics works on all genders’ bodies.) I’ve just been letting my shirt hems come untucked and brand of underwear get broadcasted for decades.

So I thought I’d share the knowledge. And in doing so, I’m reminded of Edward P. Jones’s “A Rich Man”, which my colleague Laleh Khadivi turned me on to some years back. It’s about an older man, a bit of a lothario, and one element of his allure gets rendered early in the story:

“Listen,” he said as she talked about her father, “everything’s gonna work out right for you.” He knew that, at such times in a seduction, the more positive a man was the better things went. It would not have done to tell her to forget her daddy, that she had done the right thing by running out on that fat so-and-so; it was best to focus on tomorrow and tell her that the world would be brighter in the morning. He came over to the couch, and before he sat down on the edge of the coffee table he hiked up his pants just a bit with his fingertips, and seeing him do that reminded her vaguely of something wonderful. The boys in the club sure didn’t do it that way. He took her hand and kissed her palm. “Everything’s gonna work out to the good,” he said.

I knew exactly what that “something wonderful” was the instant I read it. It’s, I imagine, akin to what supporters of the president feel every time he tweets or opens his mouth: daddy’s here and will take care of everything. It is a good feeling that’s not always a good-for-you feeling, like starting in on a third martini.

A better feeling, for me at least, is knowing how and why to do the move, which is to say knowing myself better, my body better, and looking out less for the comforting help of other (older) people.