Let’s face it, trying on pants sucks. It just does. I experience this not only with myself but with all my clients. A few weeks ago, I was working with a client and coined the term “pantrum”, which means a pants tantrum, after she literally lost it and threw a pair of pants across the dressing room. Now the thing you need to know about this is the whole thing was really funny. It doesn’t take long for me to develop a close relationship with my clients, however, after several years, I practically feel related to them as we quibble like sisters. This client and I have been working together for years, so when she took her frustration out on a pair of innocent pants I told her to stop throwing a pant tantrum, or a pantrum. We had a good laugh.
Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to making trying on pants less stressful. However, if you go into the process with a better understanding about the way things work the easier the process can be. Below are tips to keep in mind when trying on pants so you don’t throw your own pantrum in the dressing room. As I like to say, learn to work the system or the system will work you.
#1- Accept that you are likely not build like the models in the photos
This is not meant to be harsh, but you have to understand that about 5% of the population are built like supermodels, making the chances of you being one of them slim to none. We have to be real with ourselves and accept that even if a pair of pants fit you won’t look exactly like the model wearing them online or in the catalogs. Yes, I wear skinny jeans and, no, they don’t look the same on me as the 5’11” glamazon model wearing them.
It’s also important to keep in mind that size has nothing to do with whether or not pants will look good or not. I have worked with outrageously toned, size 2 women who have looked ghastly in the wrong pair of pants. Therefore, wishing for the perfect body isn’t necessarily going to make the process of trying on pants the breeze you would assume it would be. Trust me on this. Looking good in pants has more to do with finding the right proportion than it does wearing a smaller size.
#2- Understand how sizing works
As you probably know, there is no standardization of size in the fashion industry, which is the reason why you likely have size range of pants in your closet that fit. I can go to one store and fit into a pair of pants that are a size six and go to another store and barely get my thighs into a size 12. The frustration alone in not knowing what size to bring into the dressing room is all you often need to throw a pantrum.
Until I know a client really well, I will always pull the size they say they are, the size smaller and the size larger. Being very familiar with how each designer cuts pants, I also understand how narrow or wide they run. Even after I know a client well, I will still pull a range of sizes because you really don’t know.
If you’re not familiar with a particular brand of pants, there are some guidelines you can follow. Typically, European brands size narrower and slimmer, American brands size fuller and rounder in the hips and brands that cater to a younger clientele tend to run smaller whereas brands that focus on a woman over 40 tend to size bigger. Lastly, the more expensive a brand is the smaller the sizing tends to skew.
With all these different things to keep in mind, do yourself a favor, never bring in just one size of pants into the dressing room. It isn’t likely you’ll find someone to grab you another size and it’s way too much of a pain to get dressed, find the size you need, go back to the dressing room and get undressed again.
#3- Find your fit
Pants can often be like shoes. Some people will tell you a particular brand of shoes that fit their feet well while you can barely walk in them. Each shoe designer uses what’s called a last, which is a mold that they build all their different shoe styles off of. Pants are not much different. Just about every pair of pants that a company produces stems from the same original fit specifications and are modified from there.
When I was a fashion designer one of my bosses told me that pants are about fit first and fashion second, and I have to agree with him. If you notice, many designers will run the same classic pants over and over again for years. Each season they may introduce a few fringe styles, but their core classics stay the same. This is probably one of the few helpful things that fashion does for women.
Yet, don’t get discouraged if a pair of tried and true pants in the size you always wear doesn’t fit. There can be some perfectly good reasons for this that have nothing to do with you. First, all fabrics react differently, meaning that the fabric may stretch or shrink and you may just have to size up or down on that fact alone. Second, there is a saying that many people in fashion use, “top of the cut pile, bottom of the cut pile.” Basically, when fabric is cut for production, layers upon layers of fabric are piled up on a cutting table to be cut to the pattern shapes. While the cutting machine is pretty mighty, the fabric that is on the top of the pile could cut differently than the fabric on the bottom of a pile. Even if it is all of an 1/8 of an inch, this could make a difference. This is why it is never advised that you just grab clothes off a rack and just assume it will fit. Lastly, take into account human error. Remember, people sew your garments, not robots.
Trying on pants isn’t the time for reinventing the wheel. If you have found a company that makes pants that fit you well, consider yourself lucky and stick with them. If the particular pair of pants have a name, remember it and look for that cut again in the future.
#4- Fit through the widest part of your body
Men seem to have it so easy. They buy pants by waist and length. Women on the other hand don’t. We have to contend with these arbitrary sizes, that basically mean nothing, and then wing it in the dressing room. When buying pants, fit them through the widest part of the body, which, for most women, is usually the hips and thighs. If you are exceptionally curvy, there is a good chance that you will have to take the pants in at the waist. A pain, for sure, but it is a heck of a lot easier to take in than let out.
#5- Give it a second
I can practically feel whether or not a pair of pants will fit well before they are fully on my body. Having more bulbous thighs, if they feel tight going on, I don’t even bother pulling them the rest of the way up. However, if you can get pants on, and they fit, before you just pull them off in frustration, give them a chance. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a client put on a pair of pants and, at first, tell me they are awful, and then, just a few minutes later, start liking them. This happened with my pantrum client who, by the way, wound up buying the pants she, at first, threw across the dressing room in a fit of rage.
At first she didn’t like them. She thought she looked bad. However, I had her keep them on as I handed her different tops to try on. Through this process of giving time for the pants to settle on her body, and also see what the pants looked like with a variety of tops, she actually said, “Hmm, I like these pants. They’re pretty cute.” <Insert my eye roll here>
Don’t just whip pants off your body in a full blown pantrum. These pants have been hanging, one dimensional, on a hanger, and now you are asking them to conform to your body. Give them more than a nanosecond to settle in. Plus, pants often stretch, particularly cotton pants or styles with lycra in them. Try sitting, bending and squatting to let them move with you and then decide.
Obviously, if you can’t get the pants on or you can barely breathe, you don’t have to put yourself through this, but if a pair of pants have a chance, give them one.
#6- It’s not you, it’s the pants
The last thing I want to say about trying on pants is that it’s not you, it’s the pants. If you have thrown a pantrum in the dressing room, first, it’s normal and we have all been there, but try gaining your composure and understand that you are making judgments about your body over something that is essentially make believe. Yes, it can be hard to have to size up or to not fit into a pair of pants in a size that was once your “fat size”, but considering how arbitrary the sizes are, how each company fits differently and, most importantly, how silly it is to judge the worth of your existence on this planet by whether or not a pair of pants slides over your butt, it’s all just silly. As a very dear client said to me once, “I’m not apologizing for the way my body is built, fashion should be apologizing to me for not making pants that fit the way my body is shaped.”
Damn straight, sister.
On this pants note, be sure to look out for an article on pants in November’s Real Simple that I was asked to contribute to as an expert. It’s a really great piece that will be chock full of great pants fitting information.