When I was in elementary school, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school. We wore shorts under our dresses, which helped prevent embarrassing moments during recess. How else was a girl to hang upside down on monkey bars and remain modest? I’m convinced a male created that dress code. When the code was altered, it changed lives. Mainly, mine. From knit pant suits to blue jeans, I was a free pre-teen woman. Out of the confines of skirts, the playground would’ve been mine for the taking, but I was past the recess years by the time my wardrobe was emancipated.
Unfortunately, entering the world of two-legged school apparel brought more complicated shopping every August, before the new school year began. I had a love-hate relationship with jeans, as well as with my mother. One of us always ended our shopping trips in tears; I’ll let you guess who. It was an exercise in futility finding a size three. Now, the availability of small-sized jeans has grown exponentially, but so has my butt. My closet hasn’t housed a size three since 1982.
Through the years, pants evolved. Well, not always. Some of them are products of backward evolution - jeans that have returned to their most primitive form. Such as those with rips and tears down the legs, white strings hanging everywhere. If I wore those, friends would whisper behind my back, “Are Kim and Flash having financial problems? Do you think we should take her shopping?” Strangers would look for my tin cup, to drop money into. But when my friend Coco wears them, she looks like she just walked off the runway onto a page of Glamour magazine; it’s disgusting to the rest of us.
I’ve indulged in several phases of the denim world: hip huggers, bell bottoms, straight leg, boot leg, skinny, ankle-length, boyfriend, and capri, to name a few. Since history has repeated itself, and all these styles are now available at the same time, I can wear whatever suits my mood. But, because all brands are not created equal, it’s challenging to find jeans that fit these non-size-three hips. Hips I got from Mom.
“Thanks for that, by the way,” I’ve told her many times. “I appreciate the big eyes, shaped biceps, and well defined calves, but you could’ve kept the birthing hips to yourself.”
“Yeah,” she replied one day, “my doctor told me I have a large differential.”
“A large differential?”
“Yes, the proportion of my hips to my waist.”
I hope her co-pay to that doctor was a small differential in proportion to his tact.
When I was a teenager, Levi's with the white patch on the back pocket were my favorite blue jeans. I weighed less than 100 pounds throughout high school, back when calories evaporated into the atmosphere as I ate. Even so, my jeans fit tightly. Often, I had to lie down on the bed while Mom zipped me into them, using pliers. I have no idea why she assisted in this process. When I put myself in her shoes, I hear myself yelling at my younger self, “Kim, I am not helping you pour yourself into those jeans. We’ll go buy you some bigger ones. Those are too tight.”
“But Mom,” I scream back at Hypothetical Self-Mom, “these are my favorite jeans, and I have to get to school, and you don’t understand.” I picture myself storming off while still straining to zip up. Of course, I would never have gone up a size; baggy pants weren't in fashion then, and I would've considered a size five to be enormous.
Obviously, Real Mom picked her battles, and was more compassionate.
Now, I’m out of the teen years. Okay, I’m out of the young adult years. And the middle-age years. I’m rounding third, and will soon be sliding into the Silver Years. But often, even now, if I find jeans that fit my hips, they’re too big in the waist. It takes trying on a minimum of 37 pairs to find one lucky winner. In the event that I ever have three pairs in my closet at one time, which all fit, I'll consider that a modern-day miracle.
Flash, on the other hand, never has a pants struggle. Waist and length measurements. That’s all he needs to know. In five minutes, he’s out of the store with a new pair of jeans or slacks.
Why are sizes so complicated in the world of women’s clothing? Perhaps it’s to placate our vanity; no woman is going to advertise the number of inches around her waist. So, random numbers hide our actual measurements.
“You need jeans,” Flash informed me a few weeks ago. “Please go shopping.” It’s every woman’s dream to hear those three little words. But for me, they spell “work.”
“What do you mean? I’m fine.”
“They aren’t even blue anymore; they’re white. Pretty soon, they’ll be transparent. Go buy some new jeans before you get arrested for indecent exposure.”
“It’s too much work; I’m not up to it.”
“I’ll buy some for you.”
“You? You’ll find jeans for me? You think it’s that easy?”
“Sure. Just give me your size.”
“Well, it would take an act of God for me to fit in a Junior size again. But, once upon a time, I wore a seven.”
“What’s a Junior size? How do I know?”
“They are odd-numbered sizes: three, five, seven, nine.”
“Oh. Well, what are the other sizes?”
“Misses. Two, four, six, eight.”
“What size in Misses do you wear?”
“A six, unless they look like they’re cut smaller than usual. Then, maybe an eight, unless they look too big in the waist. But I like stretchy jeans. If they’re stretchy, get a six. If they’re not stretchy, it will be a crap shoot. No boot cut. And if they’re high-waisted, I’ll look four months pregnant. So get low-rise jeans. But make sure the waist isn’t too small; I don’t want a muffin top.”
Flash’s eyes glazed over from information overload, as he asked, “A muffin top?”
“Yeah, you know. When the belly overage hangs over the top of your jeans.”
He shook his head, muttering something about scarves being the only safe option, as he walked away.
Left to fend for myself, I went a department store that carries my favorite style of jeans: jeggings. Made in heaven, they stretch out even after I wash and dry them, over and over. They answer the age-old question, “Do cute jeans have to cut off the circulation to your legs?” with a resounding “No!” When I got to the store, I couldn't find any zip-front jeggings in my size. I dug through piles of jeans, and looked through all the racks. Still, nothing. I pictured myself 80 years old and still wearing the same pair of jeans bought 26 years earlier, with the knees worn out and a split across each cheek. I’d be the talk of the town. An unintentionally risqué woman, with blue hair, wearing a 1981 “Let’s Get Physical” t-shirt, and threadbare jeans.
Determined, I went through all the racks again. Nothing magically appeared.
Then I saw some button-front jeggings. Dare I? Buttons down the front can bring attention to abdominal poofiness. It was a gamble, but I felt brave. And desperate. I’m going in, I thought, as I opened the dressing-room door.
As I buttoned the last button, the heavens parted, the piped-in music switched to the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and a light shined down from above. I glanced down. Having no hem, the bottom of the jeans was unraveling. There were white strings hanging down to my feet. It was way out of my comfort zone, but I heard Coco whispering in my ear, “You can do it, Kim. Go for it.”
I listened, and purchased my one rare treasure. If I’d found more jeggings that fit, I would’ve bought a pair for each day of the week. But, as usual, they were the last of their kind for the season. In a few more months, I’ll be searching again. As Mom says, “As soon as I find something I like, the store stops carrying it.”
So, I’ve got a plan. I’m going to every department store in the greater Houston area to buy every pair of jeggings I can find in my size, before the God of Supply and Demand catches on, and stores throughout the United States discontinue my favorite two-legged apparel. I’m stocking up, and will finally own more than one pair at a time.
I’ll be set for life. Or until they all wear out, and I’m forced into the hunt again.
I’m thinking of switching to dresses.