Dad Jeans

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    Now don’t you go laughing. I picked these out myself. And I think I look pretty good in them, too. The casual fit, the no-nonsense cut, the dapper shade of blue. Just because I’m a man of a certain age doesn’t mean I still don’t have it going on.

    But I will admit that there comes a time in every dad’s life when the constant crush of family duty warps his world view just enough to cloud his senses and distort his vision when the day comes for him to buy a new pair of jeans. The tall piles of denim at the Gap or Eddie Bauer or American Eagle Outfitters – neatly folded, carefully stacked, properly labeled – now cast upon Dad a weary gaze he remembers instantly from his cavorting, carousing, button-fly days of yore, a look almost always followed by the four short words that never mean anything good:

    We need to talk.

    Hey, it’s not my fault that the fun and frolic seems to have gone out of my inseam and waistline (both carefully guarded secrets, but which I am proud to say remain comfortably in the low thirties). Instead, I blame the Jeaning of America in general, and the Dad shopping experience in particular.

    Because let’s face it: Dad never buys stuff for himself because he’s always buying stuff for everyone else in the family. And when it comes to jeans especially, Dad observes the same rule that applies to every other article of clothing he owns. He expects his jeans to last forever – or at least until the kids leave for college. So his trips to the store tend to occur as often as leap years or total eclipses of the sun.

    With Dad so rarely sighted standing before a rack of jeans, it’s no wonder that, left to his own devices, he will inevitably pick exactly the wrong pair. Sure, he will choose something that appeals to him and which he believes confers a fair measure of raffish charm, but once home with bag proudly in hand, it will fall to Mom to inform him that the ace-of-spades stitches on the hip pockets and the slight flare to the cuffs bring to mind not the whimsical dollar-draft nights of their dating years, but rather the proudly exported products of Bulgaria and the rest of Eastern Europe circa 1983.

    But how can you blame a dad who’s been separated from the whirl of fashion for so long by family life that he only sees fit to buy new jeans if his old jeans are drenched in carburetor cleaner or ripped at the knee long past the point of repair? But what great cut-offs they’ll make! (Or are they called “jorts” these days?)

    See Dad walk into any store that sells jeans today and watch as the pageant of preposterous jean evolution passes before his eyes. Once upon a time, Dad could rely on Mr. Levi to never steer him wrong. Now, like Biblical plagues from on high, multitudes of jeans in countless colors, dimensions, and weaves rain down to confound and confuse him. How can he look in the mirror at his schlumpy self and know whether his scrawny legs and ever-spreading hips belong in boot-cut, slim-cut, low-rise, straight-leg, loose-fit, or relaxed-fit? And who’s the wise guy who thought selling distressed jeans – that’s already ripped to we who still have our sanity – constituted a viable business plan?

    I suppose Dad doesn’t help himself by wearing his jeans so long that they droop into shapelessness that brings to mind a circus elephant (as seen from behind). Jeans of all types always look hip and au courant on Mom, of course; with her iPhone tucked in her skinny-jean hip pocket, she could pass for her daughter’s cute older sister. But Dad wearing jeans past their prime? He looks like he just finished spreading a truckload of mulch. And then rolled in it.

    Sure, Dad might try tarting up his look by wearing a stiff new pair of jeans out to dinner on Friday night. But of course he’s going to wear them too high on his waist, or pick the wrong shoes, or add the colorful webbed belt decorated with his favorite sport fish, and then his too-round-in-the-rump look will only bring to mind visions of your office accountant trying to dress casual for the annual company picnic, or President Obama on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.

    Hey, I’ve fallen into that jean trap myself. Dads are always picking up fashion-forward jean notions from things they see on TV. Don the right hue of jean, add a dark-colored turtleneck, and for a few hours, people just might confuse Dad with Steve Jobs. Add a wireless headset microphone, and Dad could be giving a TED Talk. Or maybe try the jeans and blue-blazer match-up, as Robert Redford often does. Kevin Costner sometimes wears jeans with a sport coat and nothing but a t-shirt underneath. I tried this once, hoping for a whiff of Hollywood cool. I looked like I’d just escaped from an institution and had taken to panhandling on I-10 just east of Santa Monica.

    And yes, I’ll confess that I’ve dried my jeans on the highest dryer setting just to make sure they’d be, shall we say, form fitting in the seat before I headed out for the evening. But even if the rest of my dad wardrobe might trend toward the antique, at least my new pair of jeans look relatively normal. With your weird woolen hats, ubiquitous scarves, and pencil-leg, painted-on designer denim, you young folks seem to be trying to add a new name to the long list of fashion legends. Ralph Lauren. Tommy Hilfiger. Hugo Boss. Rumpelstiltskin? Yeah, Mr. Selfie-Stick, if you’re so sure global warming is upon us, why are you bundled up all the time? So don’t laugh at me. And tuck in your shirt. You’re not parking cars at the Halekulani.

    As for me, I have finally located the perfect temple of denim to serve all my dad fashion needs. Here I am, at Walmart, in front of a stack of sensible jeans – Wranglers – all in my size. Price: $15.85 each.

    Hey, don’t think I didn’t hear you snickering. Just for that, I’m going to buy a second pair.

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    Tony Farrell
    Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.