GRAY IN L.A.: If The Pants Don't Fit -- You've Got To Quit!


You know that big brazen feeling while glancing at fashion trends and thinking, "I can wear that!" Sure you can! But how does it look?

We all have images of our (younger) selves we don't want to let go of that easily. Yet, one also learns much-needed fashion lessons in the most interesting ways. Sometimes the moment of truth comes in the tight form of pants from hell.

So this is my story:

I went on a wild shopping adventure a week ago to a store that is a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. Forever 21 a huge fashion emporium that originates in Los Angeles but has spread like wildfire all over the world -- is often my destination of joy. Think overstuffed candy store (except, unlike candy, you can get a perfect little cotton top for $1.90, a best seller of course). They have often incredible, very cheap, yet well-made, super-trendy clothes, bags, shoes -- and enough accessories to make your head spin.

As the name indicates, this is a store for the perennially young. Any woman over 40 (let alone 60!) is mostly accompanying her daughter or buying a present for her grandchild, and can be seen stumbling through the store with frightened eyes, not knowing what hit her first: the deafening music by mostly female pop divas or the sheer volume of clothes in all colors, lengths and shapes, mostly in size 6 or extra small. I myself am a tough customer; I used to be a designer in New York and dash through any store with an air of cool savvy. I don't need clothes, I started collecting vintage fashion when I was 23 (mostly 40s stuff) and can wear it till I drop dead. And yet, I'm only human and female and drawn to clothes like a cat to sardines.

Whatever drove me to Forever 21 that day -- I suspect a fair amount of writer's block and sheer escapism -- I found myself surrounded by jeans. Ever since some sadistic fashion tyrant invented stretchy "skinny" jeans, a garment that looks horrendous on 95 percent of the female population without a stick figure, we have a jeans dilemma. There are few pants that accompany us all our lives like the former indigo blue, sturdy cotton pants of cowboys -- now nostalgically called pants of the past (by me). But buying jeans that fit perfectly is more than ever the highest form of accomplishment there is, I have been told.

I'm not really a jeans woman, never was, even if I wore them as a teenager. I always liked pleated wide pants a la Marlene Dietrich or Katharine Hepburn better. Comfy, feminine and flattering. The only jeans I own is a pair of genuine vintage men's Levi's 501, with button fly, loose fit ("Mom" jeans?) and liking it that way.

Back to Forever 21 where the customers never heard of "real" jeans that don't look like dyed varicose veins support hose. So wherever I looked that day there were piles and piles of "skinnies," pleading for my attention. Was that a sign? Maybe a challenge that needed to be conquered once and for all? I took heart and said to myself, "OK, I'll try on one of these monsters and have it over with!"

Very confidently I grabbed what I thought must easily fit because it said somewhere on that long label "30 inch." I remembered that I wore the 26-inch waist and 33-inch long Levi's in my youth, and I still have a slim waist. What could go wrong? But behind closed doors -- after I effortlessly slipped off my wide black pants -- I had a grim encounter with reality that came a tiny bit as a shock! I barely got the pants over my (slim) legs; and then it all stopped at the upper thighs, wouldn't budge, no matter how much I pulled and wiggled my ass.

I looked in the mirror and burst into laughter (the only option!!) at that gray-haired woman trying to squeeze into ridiculous, uncomfortable, too tight teenie-pants stuck at the hips! And I knew that one or even two bigger sizes wouldn't have changed anything. It's all about proportion and the cut. I don't understand for what creatures from which planet most stores design (you can occasionally find a "Large"!) but I cursed the obvious conspiracy against anything over size 6. Getting the literally blue pain in the ass off of me was as laborious as getting it on.

I went home whistling a tune. I had only saved $7.99 -- that's what the ghastly garment costs -- but I had gathered precious insight that had freed me from further updates in jeans dreams. Back home I slipped into my old Levi's and felt a tinge of affection. How cool my pants of the past looked. Isn't it great that vintage clothes and vintage women blend together in perfect harmony?

Of course, I will still go to the beloved Forever 21 whenever I get the itch, or when I look in their window and am convinced that I definitely will not only fit perfectly into that long stretchy tube of a dress with cutouts in the back - but actually look spectacular in it. Only to let realism, reason and the mirror send me home again with a firm, "stop that nonsense. You're not 21 anymore!" True. But in all fairness, Forever 21 has often great black tops and wide, very chic pants worth combing first through teensy items that look like Chihuahua-outfits. So as always: Fashion & Hope remain inseparable twins.

See you there -- I'm the only other silver sister over 60 looking for luck. Let's wave to each other. I have great tips!

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