Gloria, Calvin, Earl and Not Me
On being a denim disaster
I hate jeans.
I have hated jeans since, like, forever.
This may be an unpopular opinion, perhaps almost un-American. But jeans almost never look good on me, and I dread the days I have to wear them. Which, if you work in the new media world in New York, is pretty much every day.
Instead, I do my best to get away with the cute dresses I love and, in the winter (if I have to) black pants. But you only have to look around a meeting once to see who, among all those young denim-clad cool girls, comes off looking more like their Sunday-best-dressed aunt.
If forced, I can don a pair of Gap legging jeans (weekends or anytime we go outside of New York). But I have to tell myself they are leggings in order for me to get out the door, confidence somewhat intact.
Why are jeans are so unflattering on me? I’d love for a fit specialist to explain it. I suspect it’s a combination of short legs, long torso, and thighs that are, well, thighs. You might guess it’s an age thing — mom tummy, general thickening and all — but I can tell you at age 15, with a body toned by hours and hours of ballet, when I happily rocked a bikini any chance I had, I still hated jeans.
Today, three decades and three babies later, I can hardly stand to go into a fitting room and watch the jeans spectacle unfold. I’d rather try on bathing suits or bras.
It’s not like I don’t want to wear jeans.
In fact, I’ve watched so many women of all shapes and sizes — with deep interest and envy — fawn over denim.
I remember the girls who wore their Jordache with ease to our junior high dances. I recall sizing up Calvin Klein vs. Sasson vs. Gloria Vanderbilt (velvet jeans!) in the school hallways and wondering why-oh-why not one of them looked good on me. I once made a chart of the differences among Lee, Levi’s and Wrangler jeans, hoping I could crack the code.
I stared for hours at a particularly sexy picture of Kelly McGillis in Vanity Fair, studying what made her Levi’s so right and mine so wrong. (Um, probably that she was Kelly McGillis and I was not.)
Earl, Seven, Chip & Pepper — remember them? I do, too. As I watched my summer share housemates swan about in turn-of-the-century denim, I hoped no one found me fussy in my sundresses.
Then one day, boyfriend jeans came along and I thought, perhaps, I was just doing it all wrong and these new, slightly baggy, relaxed trousers would be just like the name said, a friend. I decided I would actually try on a few.
Dear, God, please, no.
I will concede that one time — one time! — I did have a pair of jeans I loved. It was such an event I recall every detail: July 1984, Macy’s department store, basement level, in a now-redone mall in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Shopping with two friends on our own. Guess jeans stuck on a crowded rack in the back. But not the ones with the zippers at the ankle, the kind everyone had. These had a button fly, set on an angle. Wide waistband. Tapered legs. No back pockets. And the designer label was a little square on the hipbone, not the usual question mark triangle on the rear.
Most importantly: They fit like Georges Marciano himself had sewn them on me. Was that really me in the mirror?
They cost an exorbitant $85. Now, I was raised to comparison shop, think about a purchase for a day or two, and make sure. Those jeans told me to do otherwise. I was at the register within five minutes, $85 of pretty much my whole summer $100 allowance now in the Macy’s till.
And they were worth every proverbial penny. I tried not to wear them too much so they wouldn’t fray and fade. Saved them for school dances, big dates, a Friday when I knew I’d pass my crush in the hallways a few times. When I slipped on those jeans, all was right with the world, and I was invincible.
I never once saw them on anyone else, and never once saw them for sale anywhere else. It was like they really were magically just for me, hidden in that far corner of an unremarkable Macy’s.
I held on to them for years, long past the days where they were stylish and past the days they started to sag in the wrong areas and pull in others. It was hard to say goodbye.
I assured myself there would be others.
I’m still looking.