The Power of Pants

Chances are I could have gotten a lot more writing done in my life if it hadn’t been for black pants. They have their own shelf in my brain and the older I get, the more I understand that storage space up there is precious. This winter has been conspicuous for many things, record snowfalls in New York City and many parts of the country, stunning headlines from the Middle East, and an eerie stillness in the retail sector of my life that is roughly four blocks long. For the first time since moving to New York, I did not trot out to The Gap, Banana Republic, or Express to buy a new pair of black pants at the first sign that the season was changing.

I’m not sure when black pants became a full-time engagement, but I suspect it happened right around the time I moved from Los Angeles to New York. A store clerk in Brentwood folded her arms over her chest when I opined about my wardrobe and gave me advice that has governed my decisions ever since.

“Cheap black pants are the only way to go.”

It seemed like an uncomplicated solution and I was quick to embrace it. California and jeans were overthrown for a series of black pants indistinguishable to the outsider, but not to me. On one level, they were a swell solution. City grime didn’t show quite so readily, but when it rained, it really rained. Mid-calf splatters appeared after just a few errands on one wet day. Multiple purchases began and with them the onset of serious mental illness. If you’re going to buy more than one of something, you’re going to want quality, design, an abstract perfection that is impossible for a pair of Editor Pants from Express to achieve.

“It won’t take long,” I promise my daughter, a grown woman who is, in fact, an editor herself.

“Mom, please. I have no time.”

But I was already struggling into my new pants by the time she said this and it was too late for her to escape. I had begun modeling my new pants for my husband and daughter or retrieving old ones from a forgotten corner of the closet to see if they looked all right with a certain top or belt. My daughter made a strategic error during one of these torturous sessions and suggested that I drop the belts altogether and wear my shirts out instead of tucked in, producing a brand new worry. Ghostly holes began to appear in my T-shirts right above the space where a belt buckle would have been.

I upped the ante, actually leaving my neighborhood in my quest for perfection.

“Do you have any black pants that don’t ruin T-shirts?” I asked the salesclerk in Bloomingdales. She looked puzzled and I gave her a quick demo, stretching my shirt out to reveal a patch of little pinpricks.

That patient woman hauled dozens of pairs of black pants to the dressing room until I found nirvana. Inexpensive rather than cheap, they came with a smooth, solid flap that proceeded past the front zip to close over a spot near the hip. They were thoughtful pants and potentially my new best friends. When I left with my requisite two pairs, hopes were high.

And yet I wavered as fall leaves swirled to the ground. Would they last another season? They weren’t old old, in fact they were still considered fillies by equestrian standards, but things were definitely not the same. I hadn’t been bothered by their slight flare leg before, but they had begun to get on my nerves. Do these pants make me look stumpy, I want to ask daughter or husband, but I don’t dare because we have moved on.

I wish I could say life has changed now that I’ve resisted the urge to buy new black pants. I didn’t actually get more writing done this year and I’m still apt to doubt them as my husband waits for me at the front door while I change into a different pair that looks better with a short sweater. Pants have problems, like most of us, but I now know it’s not me who will solve them. The cheap ones come into the world flawed and that is how they will leave, folded up inside Trader Joe’s grocery bags. Do old black pants have souls? I wouldn’t rule it out.