This is how I tell someone that their fly is unzipped: “Hey man, are you afraid of heights? No? Well, your fly is.”
It’s childish and dumb, but it’s my way of treating the otherwise awkward exchange between myself and another man (it’s usually, if not always, another man), with the sort of tender grace that it deserves.
But here’s the thing: I’m 27 years old, and I can’t live like a child forever (no matter how delicate I am). It’s time to grow up and learn the polite and adult version of letting someone know why I’m staring at their crotch. To this end, I enlisted the help of some fly-agape etiquette experts (and a colleague whose zipper spends more time on the ground floor than it does on the penthouse).
This is what I learned.
Look Them in the Eye
“Sooner or later it happens to everyone,” says Diane Gottsman, a modern manners and etiquette expert. “Spinach in the teeth, toilet paper on the heel of your shoe or an unzipped zipper. When someone’s zipper is down, it’s a gesture of kindness to let them know so they don’t walk around the rest of the day exposing others and themselves to unnecessary discomfort. Simply look them directly in the eyes — not down at the zipper — and say, ‘This is rather uncomfortable, but I am sure you will want to know… your zipper is down.’”
Tell Them Quietly
“Someone tells me my fly is down at least once a day,” admits C. Brian Smith, our feature writer whose fly was down while I spoke to him yesterday and is probably down right now. “I mostly prefer if it’s done silently, with a casual hand gesture near the groin,” Smith tells me. “Rest assured, the message will be received.”
Don’t Be Obnoxious
“I least prefer when someone relishes (and vocalises) their ‘gotcha’ moment,” says Smith. “When they say something like a cheerful, ‘Um, you need to EXAMINE YOUR ZIPPER!’ I’m just like, go **** yourself, ***hole.”
On Second Thought, Don’t Tell Them at All
“The best way to tell someone their fly is down is to not tell them,” says Diego, a bathroom attendant at Beauty and Essex in L.A. “There was a time when I used to motion toward a person’s crotch, or quietly let them know that their fly is unzipped, but not anymore. A few months ago, I let a guy know that his fly was down, and he looked at me and said he knew it was down, then told me to mind my own business. Even if ***holes are a dime a dozen, it’s not worth my time to find out. It’s not like I’m getting paid to do it.”