As if I weren’t feeling insecure enough already after a recent closet purge to get rid of things that didn’t “fit and flatter”, I foolishly went shopping for new jeans this week. The jeans and general closet purge preceded my recent big bra purge (by that I mean quantity not bra size, obviously). Embarrassed and frustrated with a closet full of jeans that no longer fit, tops that made me look pregnant and sweaters that only flattered my lumps and bumps, I trucked bags of cast-offs to charity bins and the consignment shop. That left me with only two pairs of jeans that were marginally comfortable and not too embarrassing to wear out in public. A trip to the mall was needed to remedy the situation. (Doesn’t that solve pretty much any existential crisis?)
Buying new jeans can be every bit as painful as trying on bathing suits, which I gave up on a long time ago. The process can involve visiting different stores and, lo, even different malls in different area codes in search of the perfect fit for the less-than-perfect body. I’ve always had the best luck with NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans) as I’m only 5’3″ and their petite and ankle-length sizes usually fit me perfectly. Not this time. I was looking for a mid-blue colour (not too pale and not too dark as the only two remaining pair I have are light blue and dark wash), no holes in the knees or thighs (boomers understand why), a nice ankle-grazing length for summer and also with summer in mind, softly distressed and not too heavy. I also prefer the high waisted style that does a better job of corraling muffin-top than those ridiculous designs with a 5-inch rise. NYDJ didn’t have just what I was looking for so I had to cast further afield which is a terrifying prospect. Who else makes jeans for boomers who aren’t 6 ft. tall and weigh 94 lbs? Was I asking for the impossible?
I started in Hudson’s Bay Company at Sherway Gardens in Toronto. I didn’t want to invest in expensive designer jeans because I was casually considering a frayed hem which will probably be out of style next season or more likely, within the next ten minutes. The Bay has a wide range of brands and sizes, many of which are conveniently on sale at this time of year to clear out current inventory in preparation for next week’s fickle trend. No luck. I’m always on the cusp of being current, but not quite there. I also learned that Top Shop is unaware that there’s a large portion of the population that is not size 00. No one I know has a 25″ waist and 32″ inseam and I know a lot of people.
So I went to my favourite store, Nordstrom which tends to carry more high-end merchandise. Jeans shopping calls for desperate measures. The only ones that came close were Frame but at more than $300.00 the fit was only so-so. If they don’t feel marvelous when I try them on, they’re doomed to languish in my closet unworn. If I’ve learned nothing else about clothes’ shopping over the last sixty years, it’s that if I don’t absolutely love an item immediately, don’t buy it. I have a mantra I repeat when I’m in the fitting room: “If in doubt—DON’T!”. That’s saved my bacon many times, preventing me from committing serious fashion “don’ts”. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to recall those cute little 27-inch-waist jeans with the snappy red zippers at the ankles, that I once purchased for my once lean young body at Bayview Village—many years ago.
Leaving Nordstrom, I hit every store in Sherway Gardens that carries jeans. That included The Gap, the Levi’s store, ZARA, Mendocino, Andrews, Dynamite, Eileen Fisher, Eagle Outfitters . . . and on and on and on. My feet felt like clubs and my self-esteem was totally crushed. Most of the children working in those stores had no understanding or sympathy for my plight—like it’s my fault I’m old, fat and frumpy. Their day will come. Just wait ’til menopause hits them and I hope they remember how cavalier they once were about me being unable to zip up their stupid, skinny jeans. I ventured into stores I didn’t even know existed until I went hunting for a new pair of inexpensive, fashionable jeans. I’m now very familiar with the millennial world of disposable clothing. Not that their clothing lines were able to offer anything remotely appropriate.
Even the Levi’s store which has wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with jeans of every style, colour, cut and uncut, still couldn’t find a pair that fit my boomer body. What they did have, however, was a seamstress sitting at the centre of the store in front of a very scary looking commercial sewing machine that could embellish my jeans or jean jacket with any type of logo, sparkle, fringe or embroidery I could dream of. The girl operating the machine wore black lipstick with a lip ring piercing her lower lip, purple, pink and black spiked hair and a tight tee shirt that made it easy to calculate her bra size if she had been wearing one. Her false eyelashes were thick and heavy enough to scrape the mud off your golf shoes. And, the store’s piped-in music was selected specifically to scare off weird interlopers like me, which it was successful in doing.
My excursions to find the perfect replacement jeans also made me an expert on retail dressing rooms. They are all consistently poorly-lit, and frequently lacking in hooks for my purse and the clothes I’m wearing. Rails are great for what I bring into the change room already on hangers, but unless there are hooks, I’m forced to drop my clothes on the floor. And, the floor of every dressing room is crawling with dust bunnies and questionable fungi, particularly close to the baseboards, which are, well, close because most dressing rooms are . . . close. And, not many change rooms have a chair or stool to perch on when we’re trying to put our shoes back on—which would be a much-appreciated amenity for boomer bottoms. And if you’re shy about all that cellulite and overflow being visible to passers-by when you’re stripped down to your frillies, then take the jeans home to try them on because those ring-topped curtains never quite completely close to give you privacy during your darkest hours.
After three separate excursions to the mall and trawling dozens of stores, I finally circled back to Hudson’s Bay because that’s where my car was parked. I made a last-minute detour into the lingerie department in a vain search once again for suitable nightgowns. No luck there either, although I purchased another sports bra, the only kind that seems to offer any degree of comfort. As I was approaching the elevator, I thought I’d pick up that white linen Ralph Lauren blouse I saw on sale earlier in the day (as if I need another white blouse!!). To get to the change room, I had to pass through the BCBG Maxazaria section that was all but abandoned (they’ve closed a lot of their stand-alone retail locations). Everything except the striped blazer I liked was on sale, including their jeans. I’d never considered that brand as a suitable candidate for this body as most of their fashions are for wisp-thin gals with a social life far beyond my level of experience.
The nice lady with the Polish accent who was working the change room check-in desk complimented me on my choice. Lifting up her blouse to show me how well BCBG’s jeans fit her trim, young body, I should have felt reassured but of course, felt even fatter. She ushered me into an adequately-sized change room with a hanging rail, stool, and hooks (!!!), where I tried on a pair of soft jeans in what is usually my size. Too big! Thank you vanity sizing.
By then, nice Polish lady had disappeared (as we all know, Hudson’s Bay Company only employs one sales person per store in the suburbs) so I had to grab my purse and waddle back out into the store in my ill-fitting jeans to find another size. After two more tries and managing to lock myself out of my own change room, I finally found a pair that were soft, sufficiently contained all my floppy bits without pinching and actually were almost perfect. All I have to do is cut six inches off the hem.
Even though they were on sale, they still cost more than I would have liked to pay, but it seems body dysmorphics like me have to settle for and be happy with whatever is close. I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy jeans with pregnancy panels. I’m not that big, yet! What on earth do truly full-bodied women do?
So, just when I was beginning to despair of ever finding a simple pair of everyday jeans that fit me, in my native province, Lynda now has a new pair of jeans. After I chop half a foot off the bottoms, I’m going to try a do-it-yourself version of a frayed hem. I never like the way altered hems on jeans look (regardless of what the alterationist says is a fool-proof European stitch-job). I’ve marked the line; I’m going to stay-stitch the new line on my 52-year-old cast iron Singer sewing machine, just the way the real raw-hem jeans are done, chop off the excess fabric, carefully hand pick and fray away the bottom hem to create that perfect look so that I can wear them proudly before they go out of fashion on Tuesday.
When you see me struttin’ out in my new jeans, be sure to compliment me. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted from the experience and could use some reassurance that my efforts weren’t in vain. All those young millennials cruising the streets and malls in their perfectly fitted, just-so-perfectly distressed jeans on their perfectly firm little bottoms have my future to look forward to. Rest up all you young Ava’s, Sophia’s, Harper’s or whatever trendy new name you have these days. Someday, you too will lose your waistline, be unable to walk in stilettos and suffer hot flashes for twenty years longer than you expected. I should probably feel ashamed about taking pleasure in the sadistic knowledge that they too will someday mourn the loss of what they so take for granted today.
There was a time when I also thought I’d be able to wear mini-skirts and high platform heels until death do us part, but alas, time catches up with us all. Maybe this is nature’s way of telling me I should no longer be wearing jeans. Naw! Boomers practically invented jeans and made them part of everyday fashion lexicon for eternity. I refuse to be beaten by a generation of consumers who is completely unaware that we boomers are the generation to thank for their wardrobe staple. We’ve grown from being offered only one choice of stiff, dark blue denim Levi’s in the sixties that we had to wear sitting in the bathtub full of hot water and salt to start to break them in and bend to our individual body shapes, to zillions of different styles, washes, manufacturers and colours, none of which fit us or are appropriate. We must rise up and demand our due, preferably with a high rise. I love jeans. I deserve to wear jeans. I will not be wedged out by built-in obsolescence and a nuclear wedgie. Welcome to the Age of Nefarious mes chères.