This issue has been tumbling around in my brain for the past day or so. I ranted a little about it to Jason and a bit more to Sherry on Facebook, but it’s not enough. I have to get this out there; I have to tell the world.
I am having a problem, and it is in my jeans.
First of all, you have to understand the key, central, absolutely vital role that blue jeans play in my wardrobe. Except for church and the odd dress-up occasion, jeans pretty much are my wardrobe. Since snagging a job where it’s OK to wear jeans to work I rarely wear anything else (well, of course I wear things on top, it’s not that kind of a job).
If you’ve decided, as I have, that a good pair of jeans is the most comfortable thing you can wear, then life is just too short not to wear them. Except that jeans, like life, can sometimes be too short.
The key problem, then, becomes obtaining the perfect pair of jeans.
This is not so easy if you are a 5’11” woman (34″ inseam, if you need to know). I don’t know why. Look around; there are plenty of tall women out there. At least as many tall women as extremely short women, yet every store has a “Petite” section and carries “Petite” lines of everything. As for larger women, I realize they have hassles, but they also have entire stores dedicated to them. But tall women? Fuggedaboutit. At least in St. John’s.
For many years I have been reconciled to paying exorbitant prices (by my cheapskate standards) for fairly ordinary jeans, just to get jeans that are long enough for me. Then, a couple of years ago, I stumbled across a gold mine.
This gold mine was at Wal-Mart, and I know lots of people hate Wal-Mart and I know they have their reasons. I have my own reasons for disliking it but when I made this discovery, Wal-Mart became my best friend in the jeans department. They carried Riders Mid-Rise Boot-Cut Stretch women’s jeans (as pictured here in an ad) — in size 12L. L as in Long.
These jeans were awesome. They were the Jeans of My Life, the Jeans I’d always been waiting for but never knew it, the Love-at-First-Sight Jeans. They fit perfectly. The “mid-rise” was an essential element since like most fortysomething women I have never adapted to the “low-rise” phenomenon, which makes me feel as if my pants are falling off. They were amazingly comfortable, and they were long enough. And they sold for about $25 a pair.
I bought three pairs and figured my troubles were over — I could constantly keep restocking these jeans.
All three pairs finally wore out — at the knees — at the same time.
Returning to Wal-Mart, I made the inevitable and tragic discovery. Oh, they still carry Riders Mid-Rise Boot-Cut Stretch jeans for women … but only in Regular and Petite sizes. No more Long jeans. No more size 12L. No more jeans for Trudy.
I was, to put it mildly, devastated. And my old jeans were developing actual holes in the knees, which is unacceptable even by my very laid-back standard for “business casual.” I had to find new jeans … fast.
“Fast” is another keyword here because I hate to shop. It’s another of those life-is-too-short things — if the Lord has allotted me only a certain number of hours on this earth, I want to spend as few as possible in retail outlets, fitting rooms, check-out lines. I go in, scout out the lay of the land, observe the presence or absence of tall jeans, and get out of there as fast as I can.
A couple of lightning-like shopping forays over the past few days assured me that none of the three Wal-Marts in the local area carries “my” jeans anymore. Instead I made a couple of dashes to Mark’s Work Wearhouse, where I got two pairs of Denver Hayes jeans, size 12, 34 inseam, “Classic Fit” (i.e. not low-rise), in slightly different styles.
The acquisition of these two pairs of jeans required me to spend a total of twenty minutes in two different MWW stores, and cost me about $100 (roughly the cost of four pairs of Riders).
For a few minutes yesterday I was happy. Sad about how much I’d had to spend, but happy to be wearing jeans with intact knees. Until I started to notice a few minor issues.
One pair of jeans fits well and feels comfortable. But they look … how you say? Like nerd. They are that dark, dark indigo which, even to retro-me, looks dated, recalling inevitably the “designer jeans” era of the early 80s. (Remember the Grade Eight boys in Jordache? Sure you do…) They’re a little too flared at the bottom. They’re OK, but ….
The other pair look better — a more faded, washed colour. But, despite being size 12 and “Classic Fit,” they are baggy. Not comfortable. In fact, they are sliding down as if they were low-rise jeans. And — this is even worse, if you know anything about me and how I wear my jeans — the front pockets are shallow. Practically decorative. You can (barely) fit a cellphone in one, but not a cellphone and a set of keys. Never mind a cellphone, keys, and 12,000 kleenex, which is what I normally carry in my jeans pockets. Oh, and of course you can’t stand with your hands shoved comfortably down inside them, which is what I like to do with my hands so they’re not just dangling there like … large dangling things.
I wore Pair #2 to work today. After an entire morning of going around hitching up my jeans and shoving my fingertips into my pockets, I am ready to confess: I have dropped $100 on two pairs of jeans neither of which makes me completely happy. And the sad truth is that past experience has shown these are probably the two best pairs of jeans available in St. John’s for a woman with my peculiar needs.
Of course, as a Card Carrying Bleeding Heart Liberal, there’s the ethical shopping angle to consider. Other CCBHLs have informed me that the reason I can get things so cheap at Wal-Mart is that my jeans are made in sweatshops. But do I have any guarantee that the more expensive jeans are not made in sweatshops? Maybe they’re made in the same sweatshops, but there’s a bigger label mark-up.
Riders jeans are made by Lee, one of the two biggest jeans-makers in the world. As with many multi-mega-corporations, it’s hard to find straight information on their ethical practices. Denver Hayes is a private label, possibly Canadian-owned, the house brand of Mark’s Work Wearhouse. There’s a lot information about ethical sourcing practices on MWW’s homepage, but when I check the tag the jeans say “Made in China” just like all the others, but who’s to know? Until government forces companies to disclose and label the labour practices under which clothes were made just like they do with the nutritional content of food, would-be ethical consumers like me will be left to wonder.
Personally, I think I could be willing to pay an extra ten or twenty dollars for jeans if I had reliable information to assure me they were made under better working conditions than the cheaper jeans — and if they weren’t sliding halfway down my buttocks. It’s the combination of cheap + comfortable that is still luring me back to the Riders, despite the lingering CCBHL Guilt.
Frankly, there are just too many issues coalescing around this simple purchase of a pair of blue jeans. Concern for labour practices in developing countries. Body-image issues. Frugality and the need to live within our family budget. My own lack of assertiveness as a consumer — Sherry is after me to contact Wal-Mart about discontinuing the tall jeans, and bring them to their knees if necessary, and that’s so out of my league, you can’t imagine. Questions about the priorities of retailers and advertisers — why is the societal ideal for women to be tall with long legs, yet it’s practically impossible for an actual tall, long-legged woman to have a reasonable choice of clothing? And running like a blue denim thread through it all, my own priority: the jeans I wear should be, literally, like a second skin. They should fit so comfortably, be so much a part of me, that I never have to think about them.
This summer I am going to the US on holiday and I am going to find me some Riders, and I think I’m going to spend my whole duty-free shopping allowance on them. I may even need to buy extra luggage to haul back the jeans. That won’t solve all my issues, but at least I’ll be comfortable again