Buy the right size.

It’s jeans season again, folks! Here’s a rumination on clothing.

There is a special place in fashion heaven reserved for the countless belt loops I ripped off ill-fitting jeans between the ages of probably 12 and 23, or so. These flimsy strips of fabric detached from the top of my jeans seemingly without effort, unable to withstand the force of my desperate tugging on denim that wouldn’t give. I would feel the waistband sliding down my back, dangerously close to revealing an ass crack, slipping under the fat roll that hangs over my belly button, whether I was standing in the lunch line or sitting at my desk at work. I loved fall but dreaded the change of clothes, giving up too-tight shorts—sure, I had a camel toe, but I looked cute from behind, right?—for unforgiving clingy pants fabric.

We can’t all find magic pants.

For that decade of my life (give or take), I suffered in my jeans. And I suffered out of them, too. Whenever I had to remove them to try on new clothes, I knew I had a fresh season of hell incoming. I spent years exercising, dieting, stuffing my face, indulging, and depriving, riding the highs and lows, in hopes of avoiding this inevitable moment of pain. But it didn’t matter if I’d spent the summer working at the local pool, swimming laps and working toward my lifeguard certs, or sitting alone in my air-conditioned house, slaving away over AP Bio summer work and concocting meals from cheese, bread, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. I would agonize in the dressing room—undoubtedly the one at Old Navy—because the size of jeans I was trying on should have fit, but didn’t. And then I’d buy them anyway.

People do this, I know. They’re supposed to be a “goal” outfit, something to aspire to fitting into. But I spent a long time buying clothes—pants, specifically; L and XL (and beyond) never really bothered me as labels on my shirts—based only on the number, regardless of fit. And thus—RIP, belt loops. And I’m sorry, skin, for leaving hemline indents behind at the end of the day.

Men’s pants are also labeled by number, but at least their numbers make sense. Men’s pants feature waist and inseam inches, numbers that are completely reasonable for deciding on your next favorite pair of pants. That’s not to say that those numbers won’t also cause pain, anxiety, grief, rage, denial—or, in some rare cases, perhaps joy or pride. But at least they’re based in fact.

As anyone who has shopped in a girls’ or women’s section at any clothing store will tell you, women’s numbered sizes are entirely arbitrary. There have been countless think pieces (and, yes, blog posts) about how one woman can be seven different sizes at seven different stores, which is definitely something I experienced. I stuck with Old Navy for the vast majority of my pants shopping because 1) they carried larger pieces, as well as tall sizes; and 2) I liked knowing which numbers were going to disappoint me when I walked in.

I’ve been everything from a 14 to a 20 at Old Navy. When I hit 14, after working hard to shave part of myself away to avoid the dreaded 18-20 mark, I swore to myself that I would never “balloon up” again—even as I was already sucking it in and sporting a fairly impressive muffin top in my new jeans. The very next year, when I had to admit that the 14s no longer fit and I was going to have to buy 16s, I remember the visceral disappointment. I may have cried.

Last fall, I bought a bunch of new jeans for the fall, ordering a variety of sizes and styles to try on in the comfort of my own home. (God bless internet shopping, honestly.) I’ve been hovering around size 16 for the last few years, but last season’s pants had been feeling a bit tight, so I got myself the dreaded 18s to try. When my box of clothing arrived, to my initial horror, the 18s fit far better than the 16s.

I didn’t think of the pants again once the weather turned warm last spring—not until about a few weeks ago, when I was digging through my closet to figure out what to trash, what to donate, and what to hold onto for another five years before finally deciding it had to go. I pulled down a pair of jeans from the year before—size 18—and then, when I was putting together the day’s outfit the following morning, I decided to wear them. I put them on without incident and went about my day.

That’s when I finally realized that the number is arbitrary, that is doesn’t matter. I had spent all of the previous fall and winter in comfort, wearing jeans that actually fit me from waistband to foot. I ignored the number and embraced the size for what it was—right for me. It doesn’t matter what the number said or what I had internalized that that number equated to. “Smaller” isn’t “better”; it just means you have a small waist. It’s an empirical fact. The numbers change store to store, which is incredibly frustrating for shopping, but it also illustrates just how useless they are.

Since I don’t plan to start shopping in the men’s section, I just need to learn what size fits me where, and buy that. A smaller size will make you feel better for a moment; the right size will make you feel your best always. And it will save your belt loops—and maybe your sanity.

Tell me about your favorite pair of jeans in the comments!


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