Puffing and panting

Call me Mr. Between-Jeans.

Even those of us who work alone in the privacy of our own homes -- where every day is Casual Friday -- occasionally must go out into the world and buy new clothes.

I ventured to the dreaded mall recently in search of blue jeans. Autumn (the Official Season of Long Pants) had arrived and my only pair of jeans had become so tattered that they could no longer be seen in public.

Of course, they weren't my ONLY pair of jeans. I have a whole closetful. All of us who grew up in the Era of Blue Denim have stockpiles of jeans because we never, ever throw out a pair no matter their state of disrepair or their laughably outdated sizes. But I was down to one pair that fit comfortably.

When one reaches a "certain age," jeans that once molded sleekly to one's body become way too tight in all the wrong places. Squeeze into a pair and within an hour or two, you'll feel like a magician's assistant, being sawn in half. You know you've got a problem when you remove the jeans and you can still tell what brand they were by the stitching and rivet patterns pocked into your skin.

If you're like me, you wear the most comfortable pair over and over until they're as faded as Grandma's housedress. They get that weird fringe at the ankles where you've walked the hems off underfoot. Seams fray and buttons pop and, eventually, you're essentially wearing a long denim loincloth. Not the preferred look for the successful at-home worker.

So it's out into the world to buy new jeans. The selection these days is mind-boggling. Cargos and carpenters and cowboy cuts. "Classic" fits and "relaxed" fits and "loose." Loose sounds pretty enticing, particularly to someone whose favorite garment is a bathrobe, but I try them on only to find that I'm "sagging" in the wrong places. You can only wear the really baggy jeans if your main form of transportation is a skateboard.

I try some "relaxed" jeans and they're okay, seemingly designed for sitting rather than standing, which should suit my lifestyle fine. But the fit isn't quite right.

I don't know what it's like for women, but men's sizes change after one reaches a "certain size." Waist sizes no longer inch along. Once you get past a 34-inch waist (and I think I passed that in college), the sizes jump up in increments of two inches. Naturally, I fall between two sizes. One's buttonable as long as I hold my breath. The next size up feels like they'll fall off. (Probably not much chance of that happening. There's all that "office muscle" below the waist that'll keep them from actually dropping. But they FEEL wrong.)

And they're too long, which seems impossible for a man who's 6-foot-5, who's typically lucky to find anything his size on regular department store racks. But suddenly I don't wear a 36-inch inseam anymore. I wear a 34. Am I shrinking? Did something happen to my legs when I wasn't looking? Are the jeans just riding that much lower these days?

I finally attribute the length problem to the prewashing all jeans undergo these days. In my youth, we always bought jeans a tad long because we knew they'd shrink. Now, they've already shrunk -- supposedly -- and the result is a different size for me. I like that explanation better than the idea that I'm growing shorter with every passing day.

Once I adjust for length, the waist size still feels wrong. So I try the "classic" fits and then different brands and styles, going in and out of the fitting room so often the salespeople start to eye me suspiciously.

Finally, I realize I'm holding the new jeans to too high a standard. I want them to feel just like my ancient, ratty jeans, which have stretched and strained to my body for years. Even with all the pre-washing and size-shifting, jeans still need a "breaking-in" period. So I buy a pair, trusting that they'll eventually feel just right.

But my shopping adventure reminds me that the best uniform for the work-at-home dad remains a bathrobe. One size fits all.

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