The Women’s Section
Full disclosure: I despise the idea of adults being obligated to buy gifts for other adults and pretend to like what they are given. My extended family has come to understand that I am the Grinch and I proudly wear my seasonal boxers with “Merry Grinchmas!” spread across the seat. Still, once a year I bow to societal pressure and spend what seems like an eternity picking out gifts for those I love (or at least those I am required to pretend I love.)
I tried to buy my wife jeans this year and while I survived the ladies section of a department store, I am forever changed.
Jeans seemed like something straightforward.
“What size are you when you aren’t pregnant?” was my starting point of the conversation, and “8 or 10 depending on the brand” was the reasonable response.
I circled the montage of varying kinds of denim and spied a rack of “Lucky Brand” thanking the fashion gods for my good fortune of a brand that was relatively upscale and recognizable. I was quickly dismayed to see that the Black Friday crowd had already eviscerated any size 8 or 10s.
The brief fantasy of relations with my non-pregnant wife as she lowered the zipper and revealed the signature text of “Lucky You” dissipated and I moved on to other racks, trying to figure out the vast array of sizing, shapes, etc. I began to have a small panic attack, overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of it all.
When I want jeans, I go into the store, try to find 34X30, grouch about the fact that all they have available are 34X32, and purchase them knowing that I’ll eventually walk off the cuff. It takes literally 10 minutes to buy three pairs of jeans. I only try them on to make sure they aren’t too hipster or that my giant running thighs can fit.
Here is a zoo of hip-huggers, skinny jeans, low rise, boot cut, form fitting, and “best booty.”
The skinny jeans set off an Admiral Akbar voice yelling “it’s a trap!” Having ogled my fair share of women, I had seen enough muffin tops to know that skinny jeans don’t make you skinny, they just make curveless women feel special.
Move along. These aren’t the jeans you are looking for.
However, I also know better than to buy “slimming” jeans. Buying your wife slimming jeans will go over about as well as getting her a treadmill. I call over a sales lady and try to discuss the width of the jeans. “My wife is wider than this I think. Can I find a W in this version?” The look of confusion matches mine as she slowly explained that W doesn’t stand for “wide” but for “women.” In my head was a little voice making an argument about women being broads and that is why W stood for wide. I have learned to ignore that voice.I took a break from jeans to meander over to lingerie and was faced with an equally debilitating array of choices of sizes, shapes, colors, and styles to choose from. I bypassed certain styles with the knowledge that once a particular orifice has passed a writhing, screaming, mucous-covered life form, you can never look at it quite the same way, no matter how you dress it up.
Something practical will do and practical can be its own style of sexy.
I’m distracted by concerns that faux cheetahs will soon be on the endangered species list along with my aging libido. I message a few of my old college female friends asking pointers, for the first time in my adult life, completely devoid of prurient interest. They walk me through the maze as well as they can over the internet. I perversely think that now I can buy the perfect gift for another man’s wife and wonder if there can just be a giant, adult-oriented secret Santa that matches lingerie with the woman who wants it and removes consumer monogamy from the equation.
The fact that Violent Femmes “36-24-36” is blasting in my inner jukebox is making this all the more difficult. I’ve given up on panties for the most part, though I do stretch a couple out like large rubber bands and try to shoot them at the head of a faceless mannequin that silently judges me as I shop. I ponder the thought of holding up bras to various female shoppers to get an idea of things and give up on that as well.
Back to jeans.
“8 or 10.” “8 or 10,” I say.
“You can do this,” I add with confidence.
I see a rack of 7, 9, and 11 and assume that splitting the difference with 9 would make sense. I ask the sales lady why these are in their own section and she explains I’m in the junior misses section. I should go back to the wall where I started. The look of confusion was apparent as she took me by the hand and explained that odds were juniors and evens were women. I push my still empty cart back to the proper section and begin again.
Fingering the displays of even-numbered jeans, I lose hope when I find an entire rack that is labeled, S, M, and L, and entirely separate nomenclature from what I’ve assumed would be an easy pursuit of an 8 or 10. I ask another female associate over and try to get an explanation. She confesses she has never really figured it out and can’t help me. She does allow me to hold up a pair of “M” to her waist as I ask her how tall she is. They will fit her perfectly it seems but she is three inches taller than my wife.
A third rack of jeans uses what I’m used to with a simple “Waist X Inseam” measuring system, but as I am looking for an 8 or a 10 and still trying to surprise my wife, it seems futile to start texting questions about her inseam. I message some more of my female friends who try to help as well as they can before I give up.
This all seemed like a cruel misogynistic joke. It is the fashion equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests.
Somewhere in a poorly lit back room of a Whiskey Bar is a group of withered old men wearing matching $200 suits and sipping mid-range scotch. They laugh noisily to themselves knowing that women will never shatter glass ceilings as long as they are obligated to spend entire days parting seas of cotton-polyester blends in search of pockets.
So far only a few have seemed to crack this code. This is why Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton have adopted the idiot proof and multi-purpose pantsuit to defy the trap of fashion. They don’t look sexy, but if we aren’t looking at their forms, we might actually listen to their words.
In the end I gave up in frustration. I’ll deliver this year’s Christmas gift like last year’s… A gift card and a note of apology. Except this year I won’t apologize for my lack of planning; I’ll apologize on behalf of a gender which perpetrated this horror show.