Yesterday, my wife reached the limit of her patience and dragged me out to shop for new clothes.
She thinks I dress like a dumpy old man…which I do because, well, because I am a dumpy old man. Personally, I never look at my ass–ever–so if my pants are baggy in the rear, it’s of little consequence to me. My wife, as it turns out, looks at my ass a lot, and has strong opinions on what I use to cover it and now, tired of me covering my backside with enough cloth to rig a small sailboat, she was determined to change the status quo that I’d so assiduously preserved.
With this as preamble, I got stuffed in the car and trundled off on a clothes-shopping expedition. I had little say in the matter, other than to unequivocally refuse to set foot in Target. My experiences there have been…unpleasant, exceeded only by dim, nightmarish memories of similar expeditions to K-Mart. She could drive up to the door of Target, but I knew she was physically unable to drag me inside.
So she took me to Kohl’s.
Opening the door, the staff greeted us like old friends. Judging by the emptiness of the place, I think they were genuinely glad to see us, if for nothing else than to break the monotony.
As it turns out, 4PM on a sunny Monday is the perfect time to go to Kohl’s, because when I say it was empty, I mean it was empty. The only people we saw during our entire ordeal were four salespeople and a security guard who was running for the front door (maybe his shift was over?)
Successfully surviving the gantlet of fragrances (courtesy of Britney, Beyoncé, and a bevy of Jennifers), we pushed upstream against the current of auto-tuned bubble-pop Muzak, past racks of petal-bright dresses and sparkly costumerie, and on into the far reaches of the store where the Men’s department was kept. Our main quarry was jeans, which were not to be found anywhere near the big word “Men” that hung from the ceiling. The sales staff, seemingly unable to survive outside miasma of pop-idol perfume, were absent, leaving us to fend for ourselves.
After discussing the specific merits of various plans, we decided not to split up the party–my D&D training goes deep–and opted for a widdershins approach, heading anticlockwise along the perimeter. Finally, after crossing miles of fallow ground, flanked by racks of undergarments and with nothing ahead of us but the giant “Misses” sign, we peeked around a corner and spied Levi’s and Lee spelled out in neon brightness. We’d found the lair.
Stepping in, I immediately became disoriented. At some point in the last decade, Men’s jeans went from two styles to about fifteen different “cuts.” There’s Regular cut, Boot cut, Relaxed cut, and Skinny cut. Levi’s not only have 501s, but also have 509s, 550s, and a handful of other 5-somethings. Taking my guide’s…er, my wife’s advice, we eliminated all but “regular” cut which, to be perfectly honest, was fine by me. Limit my options. Please.
As for brand, I had no preference. I haven’t worn a pair of “big” brand name jeans in twenty years. Economical house- and off-brands like Route 66 and Basic Editions were what I’d been using to cover my posterior, and they’d done fine (in my estimation). We searched without prejudice, scaling the denim-stuffed cubby-hole cliffs, seeking sizes appropriate to my waist and inseam, and quickly learned two things. First, though each cubby-hole was labeled with a waist-measurement, this in no way means that the contents of the cubby-hole will match that label. Like an ancient midden, jeans were crammed into any orifice available without order or organization. Second, following the progressive measurements across and down, we found that some brands didn’t bother with people whose girth exceeds 38 inches. At a height of 6’1″-plus, and screaming in on 60 years old, my waistline has…expanded from the early days when I could use a bandanna as a belt. My waistline left 38″ in the dust during the Clinton Era and am now solidly in the 41-42″ range (depending on whether it’s before or after lunch.)
Only two brands still felt that men with waistlines of 40+ inches were worthy of their product: Lee, and one called Urban Pipeline (or “UP”…how preciously hip is that?) Most of the jeans in the UP line felt like they were made of woven plastic, and only one pair of 42” was to be found. In the Lee cubbies, we found three pairs of 42s.
Now came the hard part. The Fitting Rooms.
As mentioned, the place was empty, and that made the whole Fitting Room ordeal much easier. Braving the extra-loud techno-pop, I entered. Failure came quickly as not only were the Urban Pipeline jeans a bit too precious and tarpaulin-like, the “UP” folks also seemed to use a different standard “inch” than the rest of us. Their 42″ jeans were huge. Like clown-pants-huge. Perhaps the brainiacs at Urban Pipeline want us to feel good about their jeans, and oversized them so we can say we’ve lost 2″ on our waist.
Thankfully, the Lees fit my waist and passed wifely muster, so we took all three pair. They were the last of their kind, though, and I had a momentary pang of guilt for leaving empty cubbies for the next guy who came in, but my angst quickly passed. Besides, looking around, it seemed likely that there might never be a next guy.
Leaving the store took as much time as the jeans-hunt itself. My wife, realizing she might not get me back here for years, exploited the situation. Retracing our widdershins route, she stopped every twenty feet, pulled a shirt off the rack, and held it up to my chest. She cocked her head to the side, evaluating the fit, and then either kept it or returned it before heading onward for another ten paces.
It’s not like I didn’t have a say in this. Old and fashion-unconscious as I am, I’m still picky about my clothes–the colors, the fabrics, the designs–and a good 50% of the candidates got a serious enough eye-roll from me that they never made it off the rack, but as it became clear that we were not leaving without some shirts, I began working with her instead of against her.
Three pairs of jeans, three broadcloth shirts, one polo, and two belts later, the checkout counters were in sight.
“Do you need any underwear?” “No.”
“Ooh, look at that little black dress!”
I looked up, praying to the hagiolatrous icons of J-Lo and Daisy that hung larger than life above my head. They must have heard my pleas, for my wife, spying my single, furrowed brow, took pity on me. At checkout, the salesperson calculated how much we’d saved (as well as how much we hadn’t) and soon we were back out in the springtime sun, Santa-swag-bag over my shoulder. Our hands were blue from the raw denim we’d captured, and our feet were aching from the miles we’d trekked, but we made it out hale and whole.
Good enough to last another couple years.