Saturday, November 23, 2013

Denim Adventures, or, A Flowchart for Pants Shopping

By Mary C. Tillotson

you've served me well, old friend
I needed some down-time on Saturday, and I must have really needed it because I had this crazy idea that during my "down-time" I could run out to a store and buy a pair of jeans "real quick."

I would be less stressed because I'd have one thing off my to-do list, I reasoned. I do need jeans, after all.

My favorite pair (from my sister-in-law; they didn't fit her) is growing holes in the knees and I don't think they can hold out much longer. My second-favorite pair I purchased for cheap at a thrift store, and like other Aeropostale jeans I've gotten at thrift stores, they fit great for the first month, then start digging into my belly while exposing my backside. Not quite the look I'm going for.

Also, they are Aeropostale jeans. I'm done with my early 20s and would like to find a different brand that fits, thank you, and hopefully for longer than a month.

Noble goal in mind, I set off for a department store, envisioning myself enjoying a cup of tea near the fireplace, wearing my new jeans. Yes! This was an intelligent way to spend my allotted "relax" time.

Clearly, my brain was still addled from the crazy week. I have absolutely no experience of clothes shopping -- especially pants shopping -- being easy, quick, or pleasant. (That's not quite true: it's quick when I give up almost right away, which often happens, and it's pleasant when I have friends, a large budget, and I don't really need anything, which never happens.) So the idea that I would "recuperate" from a "stressful week" by "buying a pair of jeans" was just dumb. I don't know what I was thinking.

I don't know if my clothes-shopping failures are a result of my body being oddly shaped or simply femininely shaped. I'm short and scrawny and have asymmetrical hips, so I while can hold a wiggly four-year-old easily on my right side, I can't hold a grocery bag on my left side unless I don't mind squishing it into my torso or letting it slide down my leg. On top of that, the clothes that come closest to fitting me are usually made for teenagers, so I end up with Aeropostale in my closet.

That said, I haven't yet met a woman who doesn't enthusiastically concur when I say one of the very few things more frustrating than pants shopping is swim suit shopping. So maybe it's not just me. Maybe we are all oddly shaped!

What makes it worse is the complete arbitrariness of the sizing system. Men look at two numbers and have a very good idea of whether the pants fit. Women look at a number, and maybe a letter, and maybe a color or a word, and have a hunch that the pants probably fit someone who weighs within 20 pounds of what I do and is within six inches of my height.

There's vanity sizing, which comes from the idea that you're more likely to buy if you fit into a 6 than an 8, so they move the tags one size up so pants that should be labeled 8 are actually labeled 6. (Nicer brands are bigger culprits, which is why your size goes down as your price goes up.)

Then there's this faux acknowledgement of inconsistencies in our body types and fit preferences by labeling jeans with unhelpful tags like "curvy" and "moderately curvy" and "classic," which really ought to be translated "fits photoshopped model type 1" and 2 and 3 and so on.

I imagine this accomplishes more revenue for the designers and department stores, but as far as I'm concerned, mostly it accomplishes making me try on 30 pairs of pants with no clue whether the next one will be bigger or smaller than the last. Or maybe it will be bigger and smaller. Because that's a thing, if you're talking about women's clothing.

After a similarly frustrating trip when I was in college, I made a flowchart of how pants shopping works if you're a woman. Because most days I'm better friends with jeans designers than technology, my husband used Lucidchart to turn it in to the beautiful masterpiece that you'll see below (his words). I pasted the result at the bottom of this post so you can have it handy next time you go shopping.

This evening, I'm going to venture out again to make another attempt, hopefully with more success. I'll be armed with my flow chart, and a new attitude. Less of this:

Image by The New Present

And more of this:

Image by Kari Day

Here's the flowchart:


  1. LOVE that flowchart! All of this post: so sad, so true.

    1. Haha, thanks, Laura. It's good to hear it's not just me!

  2. That flow chart is SO accurate!

    I've actually had the best luck with jean shopping lately at the thrift store! Maybe it's because I live in an area where rich people donate their unused, with tag, name brand nice jeans, but most of my jeans are from the thrift store. Crazy. And cheap.

    1. Oh, you're lucky. I've heard of those places, but I've mostly lived in areas that had their heyday a few decades ago, so the thrift stores are hit-or-miss. Although I did get Aeropostale at thrift stores at least twice!

  3. I love the flow chart. I hate shopping for pants. Actually thrift stores are my favorite place because of the variety of fit--and the cheap price. But you would think manufacturers would be able to fit women's bodies by now. Nope.

    1. "Nope" - fully agree.

      I think part of the problem that it's hard to mass-produce something that really ought to be tailored for each person. I mean, no two of us are the same size/shape, we're prone to changing shape, and we wear our pants fairly fitted. Men, I think, are more uniformly shaped (not entirely, but more than we are, I think), don't change shape as often, and wear their pants looser so they don't have to fit as well. Plus, they are less angsty about their size, so manufacturers can be straightforward about it.

      This may be an argument in favor of skirts, or making your own clothes -- in one way, those pioneer women had it easy!


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