If I had a fashion motto, it would be this: A woman should own as many pairs of black pants as possible. Black jeans, black stretch pants, black cords, black linen, black palazzos. They right wrongs, they smooth lines, they keep everything together and they camouflage jiggle. I have 11 pairs myself, some of which I've had for years and are worn at the knees and some of which reflect the latest styles, like the low-waisted, side zippered, stretchy pair I just bought. But none of them hold a candle to The Pants.
It's a Saturday morning in New York, 1996. My best friend Ilana and I are hovering over omelets at a Greek diner and planning our day. I live on the West Coast, so we rarely see each other, let alone have a gloriously unobstructed day to fill as we please. It's January, sale-season, and shopping is in order. Ilana insists we go downtown to check out Barney's. I complain about my lack of funds and, due to December's overindulgences, lack of a figure. Ilana won't hear of it -- we're doing Barney's and we're doing it right: with open minds and open wallets. Next thing I know, she's hailing a cab.
We take the elevator to Barney's seventh floor and Ilana heads straight for the sale racks, holding up dresses and pants for inspection and then flinging them over her arm. "Where are you?" she asks, in her sensitive talk-show host voice. She means where am I on the 10-pound continuum that I have fluctuated along since we were in high school. "You're in the middle, right?" We've known each other since second grade and she knows my body, its nuances and secrets. She was there when I formed breasts, lost weight, gained weight, tried on bathing suits. She knows, intimately, in a way no man ever could, which parts of my body I cherish and which I obsess over. She humors me, then sets me straight when I'm full of distorted thoughts. "Yes," I say, "I'm in the middle."
Ilana marches up to a lithe saleswoman and in an affected New York voice, faintly pleasant but sautéed in irritation, says, "Can you start a dressing room for us?" Lithe lady takes the pile of clothes from Ilana's arms, turns sharply on her black-booted high heel and disappears into the fitting room. This woman, like all women in New York, renders me feeling dumpy and unglamorous. She exudes a cool elegance, a striking sophistication. She, like all the women in this town, is an expertly coiffed beauty bathed in black. I want to move to Des Moines and wear sweat pants for the rest of my life.
Ilana perches herself on the dressing room chair -- it might as well have DIRECTOR sewed on the back. "Tuck the shirt in." "Pull the skirt down." She's getting on my nerves. "If I were you I'd try that in a size smaller ... it'll look sexier." I hate everything she hands me. Sweater sets, pants with pleats. Jodhpurs. I'm getting cranky. My hair is a static mess. My skin looks really scary under the fluorescent light. I suggest we move on to shoes when Ilana hands me a pair of black pants.
They look pretty normal on the hanger. Low waisted, with a zipper front topped by two buttons. I've never heard of the designer, Chaiken and Capone. The material is heavy cotton with a slight sheen. I try to ignore how damn good they feel as I slip them on. "Pull them down, they're hip huggers!" she orders. I move back so she can be my mirror.
Ilana's a dramatic woman. She starred in our high school plays, and when she sang in the chorus you could always hear her voice above everyone else's. Not surprisingly, she now works in television. But I can tell when she's pretending she's onstage and when she's truly floored.
"It's like you just lost 10 pounds," she says, staring at my lower body. I check my reflection in the mirror and she's right -- it's as if all the bulges and curvatures that I am accustomed to condemning have melted into a seamless, sexy silhouette. My legs look sleek, my waist small. Ilana orders me to turn around. This is the moment of truth. We both know that my behind is my "problem" area. "Your ass could stop traffic."
"Don't even think of looking at the price tag," she orders. After I finally take the pants off, Ilana pulls them on and, sure enough, they make her look like a little pixie too. She runs to the rack to snag a pair for herself but there are no more. Sigh. Ilana flags our saleswoman. "Can you get a tailor in here? We need these shortened and delivered to my apartment." (In New York they do this kind of thing). I hand Lithe Lady my credit card and never look back.
In trying to calculate just how many times I've worn The Pants since then, I've erred on the conservative side. Let's say I've worn them three times a week, every week. That makes 312 wearings and I'm still going strong. I was planning on revealing here just how much The Pants cost, just how much I was willing to plunk down for a pair of black pants that de-emphasize my ass, but I can't bring myself to do it. You don't know me, and since you can't see me in The Pants, you can't truly understand that they are, in fact, priceless.