Clothes hangers nudging skeletons out of our closets


Beach talk: Philip K. Dick was a mite apocalyptic in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, when the character JR Isidore describes the enveloping universe of "kipple": "Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match... When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself... the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleisation."

But he was certainly on to something, as anyone will attest whose drawers are stuffed full of only-child socks, or who constantly trips over obsolete mobile phone chargers.

And it gets worse, according to Isidore: "There's the First Law of Kipple, 'Kipple drives out nonkipple'." He was probably scratching around for a pen or a lighter at the time. But he missed out on a third category of object, quasi-kipple, useful stuff that reproduces beyond all utility, and here the prime exhibit must be the incredible multiplying clothes hanger.

We've all been there, taking an innocuous peek in our wardrobes and finding an array of redundant specimens, with their enigmatic, question-mark hooks.

We've repeatedly culled them, but there are always more. Usually disregarded - when was the last time you actually sat down and thought about hangers? - it's as if they realise that it's only in copious numbers that they even register on our consciousness, so in a bold bid for legitimacy, an exponential cloning process takes place.

Where have they come from? What manner of immaculate conception is this? Experiencing a more assuming object in this way would be vertiginous, but the overlooked hanger merely makes us sniff, and then cull once more.

The occasional brave soul who ponders the mysteries of the hanger can be driven over the edge. Witness Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in the movie Mommie Dearest, who has a conniption when she discovers her daughter Christina using wire hangers. Crawford doubtless knew the baleful propensity of the wire hanger, above all others, to multiply without limit.

A friend of mine, who we'll call Lisa, has confronted the wire hanger without flinching. "I can't stand them, they're awkward and look terrible," she says with feeling. Like the rest of us Lisa culls, but she isn't content merely to wait for their inevitable reappearance. She confesses that she has on one or two occasions actually bought more pleasing hangers, preferably wooden but if necessary plastic, in the homeware sections of department stores. Her purchases are effectively an offering to the god of hangers, an act of appeasement to stave off the eternal return of the dreaded wire hanger.

She's on a hiding to nothing though. Peter Corrigan, a salesman with Dormer Ireland Ltd, says they ship over three million per year, the vast majority of which are, yup, wire. Dermot Gibbons, managing director at Alex Reid Ireland Ltd, likewise says they supply millions of them. Most come to us through middlemen working in the bowels of drycleaners. Catherine Slater, shop manager with Jeeves Drycleaners in Stillorgan, Dublin, says her shop accounts for more than 5,000 of the blighters every week.

The victims of this epidemic are trying to make sense of a senseless world. They're putting surplus hangers to good use, unlocking car doors, unblocking toilets, roasting marshmallows, picking up TV signals, reaching the unreachable.

The pushers are taking their first faltering attempts to domesticate the untamed hanger. "We've developed a recyclable plastic hanger, and we take them back free of charge," says Corrigan. Slater says people are becoming more environmentally conscious, returning hangers to the dry cleaners. But you suspect it's a losing battle, and the ubiquitous, endlessly fecund hanger will continue to kippleise us.