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How to Tell Someone Their Fly Is Down

        Culture | Etiquette & Languages

The unzipped fly: a big exception to the etiquette rule about not making unsolicited comments about clothing.
The unzipped fly: a big exception to the etiquette rule about not making unsolicited comments about clothing.
James Thew/ThinkStock

A quick glance and it's over. You can't unsee it. You're at a party, and the oblivious person across from you has an unzipped fly. What do you do? If it were you, wouldn't you want to know? As a member of the human race, you're obligated to speak up. But how?

If you're actor James Franco, you say it straight out to late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel – on national television. Jimmy's a pro and can handle it, but the rest of us would appreciate a bit more discretion.

First, you need to decide how comfortable you feel delivering this information. Being a little embarrassed doesn't absolve you of responsibility, but it certainly helps to consider your relationship with the person before pointing out that you've noticed something amiss in such an intimate area. If it's a stranger who seems approachable, go ahead. Maybe he's on his way to an important meeting or a special date. Should you feel awkward telling someone of the opposite sex, you can ask a person of the same sex as the unzipped to deliver the message. If it's someone you don't know well, go ahead and find a more familiar face to speak up. Speaking on behalf of the unzipped, it's less embarrassing to get the heads-up from someone close to you.

The situation can be more difficult if it's a superior at work. No one is eager to hear about a rogue zipper, but how would a boss react to those words from a subordinate? So: Whether you inform your boss depends on your interaction style. If you think she'd appreciate it, make the observation (discreetly — not in front of a meeting). You might score points for being so considerate. But if you think you could be penalized for mentioning that the emperor has no clothes, it may be better to keep it to yourself.

No matter if it's your boss, an acquaintance or a friend, if you're in a position make the tip-off, remember the key word is "private." If there are just two of you in the room, it's easy! Say it and move on with the conversation. However, if you've got company, be circumspect. Get the person alone and make your point quietly. If that's not possible, try doing a flyby – casually walk past the offender and deliver the news.

How exactly do you convey the information? Make it clear and direct: "Your zipper is down" or "Your fly is open." Don't be so discreet that you're vague and confusing. A loud inquiry of, "What? What?" defeats the purpose of privacy. If you're good at charades, you can mimic pulling up a zipper. Don't get cutesy with your phrasing, though, or you'll have a whole audience trying to guess what you mean by "What do birds do?" or "You've got 'gaposis.'"

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