Too Big For Your Britches?

by on November 29th, 2014
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Getting Too Big For Our Britches

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


There are a number of expressions people use to let a young boy or girl know they are out of line, and need to cut back on their shine.  It may be that they are getting so confident as to be careless, seemingly endangering themselves and others, or else so sure of themselves that it begins to sound cocky and grate on the folks around them.  Other times, all that’s required is for the kid or teen to express an opinion in the midst of a conversation by adults…. adults who imagine their age means that they always know better.   They say things like “you’re too full of yourself,” as if it would somehow be healthier to be filled by a sense or notion outside of our selves.  And “You’re getting too big for your britches,” meaning that one’s abilities haven’t caught up with their growing sense of prowess.

Too big for Britches

It’s an expression I heard a lot when I was growing up, even though by the 1960s almost no one  in the cities used the word “britches” anymore when they referred to a pair of pants.  And even though, in reality, any “britches” I owned were nearly always at least two sizes too large for my bod.  This somewhat problematic fact had to do with the fact that my mother was the one to purchase my clothes when I was a child, and continued to help keep me in threads long after I became a runaway living in “crash pads” and enjoying a raggedy outlaw look out on the streets.  Many is the time I opened up a Christmas present of denim bluejeans in my desired color black, or slid a pair of six-pocket khaki shorts out of a proffered shopping bag, only to hold them up and find they were some four inches too long, of sufficient girth to hold more than one of me in its roomy hold.  The length was easily remedied by rolling about 3 to 4″ of the legs, not like the goofy cuffs on fictional Tom Sawyer’s trademark Levis, but rolled under and inside the legs like my Mama showed me, so as not to show.  A greater challenge was the substantial waist, and a seat that encompassed far more than my admittedly insubstantial little ass.   I loved my collection of leather belts, but cinching one up would cause the waists to fold and pleat, and the rest to blouse out like clown pants or the chinos on a homeboy.

Britches too big for me

This went on for a number of years before I, at around age 20, finally asked her the reason.  Was she being thrifty, thinking it more economical for me to grown into them instead of quickly growing out of them?  “No,” she told me, she simply misjudged my actual size, repeatedly, in spite of all evidence that she was leaning a little on the “my largo” side when making her selections each time.  “It just always seems like you are bigger than you are.  As soon as I get out of sight, I picture a son that’s apparently larger than you really are.”  And why would that be, I asked.  “Maybe it’s your stage presence,” she replied.  From the time I was a pushy and precocious toddler, she was evidently dressing a larger than life persona.  “You were just so full of yourself,” she, too, told me.  And I avoided asking what else I would be better filled with, not wishing to perplex her any further.

One trait that marked my mom, was that unlike other elders in my life, she made no appeal for me to reduce my presence or be an less intensely myself, to keep my opinions quiet, shrink away, or even to really behave.  She did all she could to reinforce my self confidence, and usually found my teenage cockiness more notable and entertaining than aggravating.  She acted as if anything I ever might want to do or be, was a role I could be sure to grow into.

Other adults were less accepting and encouraging, continually pissing me off by laughing at or trivializing my ideas, dismissing the thoughts and feelings of their own children, talking about putting the “willful young” in their “place,” showing them who is smartest.  But c’mon!  If kids were so much smarter than the young, we wouldn’t make fun of magic and obey unjust rules.  We wouldn’t be voting for Democratic and Republican candidates who are indistinguishable in their drive to control our every act and thought, imagining a “liberal” half black president would really protect our individual rights, or that the past few right wing presidents were truly free-market thinkers.  We would be tending the planet and standing up for human rights instead of letting our desire for money and security destroy our ecosystems and our freedoms.  We wouldn’t be working jobs where we have to wear poly suits and too tight of ties, or put working a boring job ahead of adventure or play time.  We’d be less obedient and more critically thinking.  We’d minimize our unhealthy habits and maximize our enjoyment.  We’d risk everything to live our dreams, and “play hooky” whenever necessary to avoid meaningless activities and a boring existence.

Instead of acting like the young have no idea what they are talking about, it might be better to listen to their concerns, address their fears and hopes, and learn from their examples when they question dogma and authority, challenge the status quo, and turn the bass beat music up loud enough to rock the proverbial boat.  They – and we – are not too big for our britches, sometimes we just need to upsize.

We should take a a hint from my bodacious, pants-buying Mama, and get past any self-doubting bullshit… because no matter how large a vessel or need might be in our future, we can still grow into it.


Author Jesse Wolf Hardin empowers the downtrodden and confounds the paradigm, writing from his wilderness sanctuary about values, politics, rural attitudes, homestead skills, antique firearms and western history (see: as well as about herbalism, natural healing, rewilding, and sense of place (see:

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Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Practicing Animá Lifeways