Buying pants

[Ed: We take a detour from our normal posts about cognition and management to talk about pants. Feel free to skip this post. Really. Just go on your way. It’s a waste of your time anyway. I’m just working out some clothing issues in public.]

I recently posted on Twitter, which then posted as my Facebook status message, about my attempt to convince myself that I should spent ~$200 on these bike/dress pants. Something like 10 people commented on these pants, which is kind of bizarre in and of itself, and most of the comments were something like “Duh, of course you should get the pants – they’re nice, you can afford them, what’s the problem?” So this got me thinking about my reticent attitude towards clothing.

Part of it is that, yes, I’m an adult, and I could buy the pants, but at the same time, as an adult, I have to balance my wants with other longer-term wants and run an implicit cost-benefit analysis between dropping $200 on pants today and saving up for a down payment on a house. Admittedly, I think I weight myself too heavily towards the long-term, and almost never buy anything for myself (except books) (and I’m trying to cut back there by using this remarkable place called the library that brings me books for FREE!). So it’s hard to say.

I also have a hard time convincing myself to spend money on clothes in general. I’ve never been particularly interested in looking good, although I make abortive attempts occasionally. Mostly I make one trip a year to Macy’s, or in the last couple years, make one order on L.L. Bean, buy a couple pairs of slacks and shirts, and I’m good. So the idea of spending $200 on a single pair of pants is kind of horrifying to me as that’s typically what I spend on clothes in a year.

Interestingly, I’m willing to spend that kind of money on shoes. I wear shoes every day, and finding comfortable, durable shoes is worth it to me. I love my Ecco boots – I bought them two years ago and they’re holding up just fine despite daily wear and tear (my previous pair of boots lasted four years). I bought a new pair of Ecco dress shoes this summer that I expect to last me ten years.

But clothes aren’t the same way. Part of the reason is that clothes wear out. I at least have finally gotten in the habit of throwing out clothes with holes in them – I had a conversation a few years ago with a friend who asked me whether I owned any t-shirts without holes in them, so this is a bigger step than you might think. I actually paid for new t-shirts (*gasp*) which horrified the thrifty anti-appearance troll within me.

Part of the reason is I’m just bad at buying clothes. I’ve occasionally bought myself shirts and slacks that just don’t work on me for one reason or another, and that money just went to waste. Those just sit on my hangers making me feel stupid – moving back from New York was my excuse to give a bunch of those to Goodwill.

The couple times I’ve gone shopping with friends definitely helped, as they forced me to try on lots of outfits to find out what worked for me. That helped me realize that a significant portion of getting clothes that look good is finding clothes that actually fit. It wasn’t a magical process, there was no secret – it was simply spending several hours trying on things, and seeing what looked good. I still don’t like the process, and am mostly standard sized enough that I can order things over the web, but I at least understand that I could look nicer if I put in the time.

Which raises another underlying tension – I’m uncomfortable with trying to improve my physical appearance. I’ve always identified myself as “smart”, and to some extent, it feels like trying to also look good would dilute my focus. In other words, I present it to myself as a bi-valued choice, and feel like I can only pick one – looking good is explicitly not part of my identity, so I choose not to pursue it. Which is stupid, I know, but there you go.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me that I started thinking about all these topics as the result of an innocent twitter about pants, so I thought I would share. I’m most of the way towards convincing myself these pants would be durable and look good and I could wear them regularly for years, which would be enough to get me to buy them next week some time. Of course, they’ve added more pants choices since I first looked, which is just making the choice harder as I can’t decide which color or which material to get. Damn you, paradox of choice!

8 thoughts on “Buying pants

  1. Obviously, if you’ve ever say, seen me, I’m no clothes guru. At the same time, a few years ago, I stopped caring about what I *should* wear, and started getting clothes I wanted to wear, screw what I’d worn in the past and what people “expect” from me.

    I got a bunch of reasonably nice button down shirts, a couple nice ties, a few nice casual jackets, a leather jacket, and some decent shoes. I can’t say I have any “nice” pants, but that’s mostly ’cause I like the sloppy dress shirt & tie + casual painter’s pants vibe.

    But that was a HUGE change from how I “normally” dress. The difference? I changed jobs, which meant that on a day-to-day basis, no one really had any expectations of what I “normally” wear.

    You still relatively recently started working at Google, so re-establishing your wardrobe isn’t that big a deal. It’s really about breaking that expectation in yourself – the identity that you’re mentally stuck with. The people around you, as a whole, don’t have as much of you invested in your wardrobe as you do.

  2. Finding clothes that flatter you is a huge ego boost. I hate the ordeal of trying on clothes and buying them (I probably get a couple of new t-shirts once every 4-6 months, then other clothes once a year or less), but when you getting new clothes, it is SO worth it to try 10 things just to figure out the 1 or 2 things that really work with the way you look.

    Given that you have to put on clothes everyday anyway, it doesn’t take any more time to put on a well-fitted, flattering shirt than it takes to put on a shirt you’ve owned for 8 years with grease-stains on it.

    Of course, the “you” in that previous sentence is really me. Heh. The big hurdle for me is getting rid of the clothes that are no longer nice looking (stains, holes, faded colors) or no longer fit right (shrinkage, stretching, gaining/losing weight, etc.) and getting nice clothes to replace them so that everything in the closet is something that looks nice.

    Since I’m a packrat, a mess, and an infrequent shopper, my closet is full of clothes that look like crap on me, with a small section dedicated to clothes that look good on me.

    I think the big “revelation” for me is that you can tell when a shirt or a jacket is fitting you properly by looking at the part of the shirt where the arm/sleeve part is sewn to the shoulder part. That seam should be at the “corner” that your shoulder/arm makes. It should not hang below your shoulders. This is true for both women and men’s clothes. Once I was told this, it made it easier to see when something fit and something didn’t fit.

    For pants, look at as much of yourself as you can see in a full-length mirror from the rear. Heh. I know it’s goofy, but that’s the side everyone else in the world is going to see more of, since they can’t stare down at you when they are in front of you. 😀

  3. It sounds like you’re coming around to thinking about clothes the same way you think about shoes. More expensive clothes last longer than t-shirts, so you can invest time and money into finding a few you really like, with the confidence that they’ll be around for years.

    Man, those are some seriously nice pants. And they come in my size, which is extremely rare! [adds to wish list]

  4. Dude, if you think the pants are quality, buy the pants.

    I used to be like you about clothes, and I still am in a way (polo’s and khaki 365 a year). But I found out that in most cases you get what you pay for, so spending the extra now will pay in the long run.

    Have a good holiday my friend.

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