It's Only Fitting

If you've met me in person, you know something about me: I'm not into clothes.

Wait! Let me rephrase. What I mean is that I've never understood fashion: what's hip, chic, couture, in, out, cool, drab, flashy, trashy, trendy, retro, metro, gauche, gaudy, faux pas, campy, vampy, high class, or low-brow. For me, clothes pretty much fall into two categories—clean and dirty—with some difficult-to-articulate variations within those groups. To be sure, I have my private clothing criteria (no to shirts with logos, words, collars, prints, stripes, or pictures; yes to natural fibers) but my daily uniform largely consists of jeans, pull-over shirts, and some sort of lace-up sports shoe. Above all, clothing must be functional and comfortable. I've only worn a tie twice in my life; once as part of a costume for a play, and once as part of an outfit at a costume wedding. (I do own a tie. I think it's in Nevada.)

Yes, I realize the fashionistas amongst you, Dear Readers, are doing that weird thing where you recoil in stark horror while simultaneously laughing at me. (It's OK: I think you look funny when you do that.)

Partly my ignorance stems from never having been forced to learn more about clothing and fashion. Let's face it: I'm self-employed and largely work from home: I could spend many of my days in sweats or "loungewear" if I wanted. (But I don't. Really.) Heck, the last time I had a so-called real job a decade ago, I could have worn loungewear to work without raising many eyebrows. After all, the software industry isn't known for making technical people adhere to dress codes.

And I'm sure these fashion-free occupational choices were at least semi-conscious. Why? Because I've never understood clothes, and I've never understood what's meant by clothes fitting.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? You try on an item of clothing and ask yourself does it fit? But I honestly cannot articulate what it means for something to fit. I have childhood memories of my mother dragging me to Sears, Mervyns, and J.C. Penney and making me try things on. I'd step out of a dressing room for the obligatory turn-around, embarrassed as all heck to be wondering around in my socks or stripping down to my scivvies in some little not-at-all-private stall. She'd look me over, pronounce "that doesn't fit," and I'd dutifully head back into the dressing room and try something else. When my mother declared that an article did fit, I didn't understand why it passed her tests where others failed. I just wanted to be done with the whole humiliating experience. I'd get home and my father would look me over in the new clothes, then kind of screw up his nose and turn back to his crossword puzzle without saying a word. His opinion was clear.

And I still hate trying on clothes. It's embarrassing, partly because I have no idea how to interpret what I see in one of those store mirrors. I stare at the image and try to ask myself questions I've heard from TV shows or imagine questions fashion-conscious people might ask. My internal monologue is just ridiculous:

Does this shirt fit?
Uh, if I could put it on, it must fit…right?

Do these pants make my ass look big?
Isn't my ass the same size no matter what pants I wear?

Does this color wash out my face?
What does washing my face have to do with anything?

Ooh, that color really brings out your eyes!
Great—could I have my eyes back, please?

This has all come to a head because my clothes are starting to wear out more-or-less simultaneously. Most of my wardrobe dates from my pre-pneumonia days, so it ranges from merely loose to baggy-like-a-pup-tent. (For readers who don't know: I came down with an antibiotic-resistant mycoplasma pneumonia in late 2000: although I was hacking up florescent-colored crap for over four months, at one point I lost nearly 30 pounds in three weeks, which was way more effective than any fad diet—take that, Atkins! Oh, and there was the added bonus of a lung abscess. Ah… those were fun times!) Anyway: I'd been putting off replacing items because I didn't know what size I'd be. If I bought clothes which seemed like they fit—you know, assuming I got lucky in my random, hurried, ignorant selection process—they'd probably not fit as soon as that weight started coming back, and I'd just have to replace things a second time. That seemed like a waste, especially since I hate the whole clothes-buying process anyway. So I waited.

After four-and-a-half years, I've come to realize that weight may not be coming back, and my clothes have been passing from well-worn to worn-out. So I've kinda been looking for new clothes. And it's every bit as insane, frustrating, embarrassing, and idiotic as I remember!

  1. They—whoever they are—don't make many jeans or pants my size, and even fewer stores stock them. Maybe there's some truth that America is getting heavier and more obese, but I'm not a small guy and I seem to have fallen off the lower end of the industry's sizing scheme for mens' pants. I can sometimes find stuff in the boys-and-teens sections, but then the legs are too short! And I'm not wearing orange-and-black camouflage-print zip-off pants!

  2. Sizes are random within a range. If an item has a measurement on it to indicate size—say a 32-inch leg length or a 40-inch chest—there's roughly a three-inch margin of error either way among so-called "name" brands, and sometimes a four- to five-inch margin of error for discount or inexpensive lines. I've literally spread a shirt marked Medium on top of a shirt of the same cut, color, and style from the same maker marked XL and the only significant sizing difference was the size of their wrist openings—the XL was smaller! At one store I could barely wriggle into pants with a 35-inch waist, but another pair with a supposedly 30-inch waist were baggier than the pants I'd worn into the store.

  3. I still have no idea whether clothes fit. I look in the mirror, and I can't tell whether items fit me badly, fit me well, or "work" for me. All I know is I want to get the whole humiliating experience over with as soon as possible.

So, after a few months of occasional, unsuccessful forays into the inventories of local clothiers big and small, discount and retail, upscale and no-scale, I have come up with the following criteria for whether clothing items fit me.

Pants fit me if:

  • The ends of the legs don't scuff on the ground when I'm wearing shoes.

  • I can put my keys and wallet in my pockets and sit down without any discomfort or adjusting.

  • They don't drop to my knees when I let go of the waist.

Shirts fit me if:

  • I can move my arms without any pinching or chaffing in the shoulders or at my neck.

  • If the sleeves are too long, they either roll up neatly or easily accommodate rubber bands.

  • I can still see my knees.

See? Simple. Now, finding appropriate shoes is a whole ’nother story...!

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