Leather, L.L. Bean, and My Waistline

Date January 21, 2006

From my recent clothing experiences, I would be hard-pressed to determine if I’m gaining or losing weight. (Un)fortunately for me, the large mirror and the scale in my bathroom make it abundantly clear that Twiggy and I have less and less in common with each passing month.

On the clothing front, I tend to treat attire in much the same way I treat automobiles — buy it new and use it until it is either embarrassaing or non-functional. And I get absolutely no pleasure whatsoever in shopping for either one. Consequently, the turnover of my wardrobe is batch-based and cyclical — a 20% replacement at Christmas, with complete turnover every five years or so.

Confusion No. 1: About four years ago I got a leather belt. Simple. Brown. Maybe 1 1/4″ wide. It’s a belt made for wearing with jeans, regardless of whether they are nice pair of jeans being worn to work (my company has a weeklong casual dress code), or whether they are a ratty, holey, fraying pair of jeans keeping paint, dirt, and sawdust off of my legs. After I had owned the belt for a few months, I decided that it was a couple of inches too long, which I remedied with a box cutter (are you getting a good idea as to my fashion sense yet?). What’s interesting is that, starting about a year ago, I realized that the tightest hole on the belt is about a half-inch too loose for where it ought to be. According to the belt…I’m getting thinner. Other observations countered this deduction, so I am left to conclude that leather continues to stretch and form after several years of use.

Confusion No. 2: Christmas rolled around this year, and I simply did not have many items on my “wish list.” At least, not many items that would be affordable or appropriate for parents, siblings, and in-laws (a house on 10 acres, a new laptop for home use, a vasectomy…). My wife, faced with numerous inquiries of, “What should we get Tim?” fell back on L.L. Bean. They carry a good mix of “safe” clothing style-wise, as well as clothes that work well with my business casual professional life and outdoorsy personal life. She meted out suggestions for a variety of shirts, with the clear instruction to get “XL – Tall.” I’m 6′-2″ and, while I haven’t seen the south side of 200 lbs in a couple of years, I’m only marginally northward, and slowly but steadily climbing. As it turns out, L.L. Bean has apparently been adjusting for the fattening of America faster than I am keeping up with the increasing averages. After trying on four or five over-sized shirts of varying cuts and styles, we got out a tape and measured. I’ll be darned if I’m not a perfect “L – Tall.” I actually went back and checked some other shirts in my closet and found a number of XL – Talls that fit great. Yet another erroneous indication of my shrinkage.

At the same time as both of these misfires, it became apparent that it was time to replace my two pairs of jeans. I’ve been a Levi Strauss 550 Relaxed Fit man for going on a decade. I don’t think I’ve actually been in a store to try a pair on in over five years. When they start to get frayed, my wife makes a mental note and grabs a couple pairs the next time she is in a store that carries them. This latest time around, I had to admit that, while the jeans themselves were getting pretty worn out, I needed new jeans for another reason. They were getting kind of tight to button at the waist each morning. I’m (almost) sure she did not do it on purpose, but, when my wife picked up new jeans a few weeks later, she accidentally took the two inches that were added to the waist off of the length. I pulled them on and immediately knew something was wrong. Back to the store. Exchanged for the right size. Two pairs.

But the story does not end there. Levi & Strauss, the inventors of blue jeans in the mid-1800s, do not have a perfect quality control process. One of the pairs of jeans, though labeled as my size, was actually two inches too long!

Like I said, according to my clothing, my waist is getting smaller (belt) and larger (jeans). My torso and arms are getting smaller (L.L. Bean) and larger (bathroom scales and mirror). And, my legs are getting longer (purchasing the wrong jeans) and shorter (jeans that are longer than labeled).

Definitely…this is a tale that could be edited down to about half of its length.

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