Fitting room confidential: What your jeans say about you
For a brief and beautiful moment in time, I lived in New York City. During that year of boot camp for life, I learned a few things -- like, there is no such thing as privacy, the only scary part about the subway is that sometimes it smells like human shit, and once, as I was hoofing it around SoHo looking for a sales job, a little voice in my head appeared and said, take that lip piercing out right now, young lady. It makes you look like you're from meth country.
No, we don't carry flare.
I also learned that there are three kinds of retail stores: the bodega, the boutique and the mega-store. By sheer luck, I ended up working in a boutique called Irregular Choice, where I sold raver shoes with plastic cat heads on them to very polite, very beautiful tourist women from Lisbon's upper echelon. But the bodega-style store fascinated me, particularly OMG Jeans.
By bodega store, I don't mean a traditional bodega; I mean a clothing/accessory store that might look slightly, uh, not-legit. It carries name-brand merchandise, has a no-return return policy and rarely has dressing rooms. It is the best kind of store next to a mega-store like Century 21 or Uniqlo because it's affordable. It just might smell a little weird. But that's the thing about New York -- everything smells weird.
Upon moving back to Denver, I returned to my beloved job at Shirt Folding Store. Here I immersed myself in store-training videos and free classes at the "Learning Annex" on denim, or jeans, or whatever SFS was calling it at the time (these things change seasonally/quarterly in retail, and you must know the difference or be subject to a good whipping with a wet noodle if your district manager comes prancing around the sales floor and you incorrectly identify yourself as a "denim expert" instead of "jeans expert").
Inspired by the array of jeans I'd seen in well-folded stacks at OMG Jeans in NYC, I became a jeans-ologist: I set out to learn about every fit, wash, length, style and rise we carried. This training also allowed me to get to know several types of denim purchasers.
Here are my profiles of the types of jeans purchasers I observe every day from my little jeans stack-making cave hidden deep in the fitting room.
These people are trend-conscious and know what they want. They don't need some sales gal wearing Uggs and a headset (read: me) to "help" them pick out a pair of jeans; they just want to know where the brand-new, this-season-only style is located in the store. They like indigo and acid-wash, drop-crotch and high-rise, trouser jeans and legging jeans. They like all styles and simultaneously none at all. They make up about .01 percent of the shopping population.
The Dad Jean
Named after the jean he's typically looking for (The "Dad Jean" was a style established long before I started profiling shoppers), this gentleman wants a light-wash, loose-everywhere-but-the-ankle-to-accentuate-his-white-Seinfeld-tennis-shoe, higher-rise pair of jeans. He doesn't want any snaps, buckles, extra pockets or multi-colored rivets that bring attention to his jeans. He just wants a comfortable pair he can wear to a football game or to work in the yard. I repeat: He doesn't want anything fancy. And nothing low-rise. If it's labeled "easy" anywhere on the jean, he will probably buy it.
He also buys jeans about once every eight to ten years, so making sure the store has three of his size in stock is key to making him not lose his shit. He is the type of shopper who wants you to help him but not over-help him, and he also does not want to hear the words, "We, like, don't have those in stock in a 38-34, sir. I'll have to call another store or check online." He especially hates to hear the term "online," so I try not to use it within earshot of Dad Jean shopper.
The Mom Jean
The Mom Jean shopper is similar to the Dad Jean shopper (and again, this is another term I did not coin). The Mom Jean likes her jeans high and pleated. Every current style will be too low-rise for her -- because, for whatever reason, she wants her ass to look like it goes miles in all directions. I completely understand that early 2000s-birthed phobia of the thong-exposing jean, but seriously, there are other jeans out there. She just doesn't want them. She wants nothing that says "skinny," because for some reason, moms translate that as "young" -- which translates to "inappropriate for her age." This is not true.
But still, she wants high, wide and straight jeans in a "classic" blue (also known as a color only found in Lee or Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans) and nothing else. She has a tendency (especially if Old Navy or Mudd somehow got her into "flare" jeans in the late '90s) to go with a shorter length over a longer one, violating one of the major rules of wearing jeans: Longer always wins. Pants can be hemmed, but they cannot grow extra fabric, and explaining to a mom that her hem needs to go past her clog and to the floor can be a tough sell.
I generally help this shopper try on several dozen pairs of jeans -- sometimes tricking her into trying on the same pair twice so she thinks there is more of a selection -- only to have her leave unsatisfied. But I always try.
The Awkward-New-to-Self-Dressing Adult Male
This dude went straight from mom buying his clothes to girlfriend buying his clothes. If girlfriend is not present or no longer exists, he may have a hard time communicating with me, the salesperson, even though I try to ask girlfriend-like questions like "Do you want jeans for going out? Is there something you like about the jeans you're wearing right now? Are you hungry?"
This type of shopper is easy to identify because he spends an inordinate amount of time wandering the store without picking anything up. Once I have facilitated finding his size and style (usually something not as tight in the leg as a male Fashionista would like, but not as loose as a The Dad prefers), he enters the fitting room. But only if he is coaxed in.
The Awkward-New-to-Self-Dressing Adult Male stays in his dressing room for a long time and when he does exit for an opinion, he usually has trouble forming words (this is due to his lack of a vocabulary for dressing oneself). He will use physical cues -- pulling at his clothes and looking at them, perplexed, like a small child -- to indicate dislike. But he will buy something if it kills him, in order to avoid ever having to do that again until new girlfriend comes along.
The Strange-Body-Image-Warped Adult Female
I get this woman because I am this woman. She believes her thighs are too big or too small, her hips and/or ankles are weird, and she is the bearer of a uniquely tiny booty or a massive one, etc. Something is wrong with her and that's why nothing fits. This is a lie.
Helping this shopper find a pair of jeans is like striking emotional gold -- I might as well consider myself a therapist, because it means we have had a breakthrough. With enough cheerleading, I can usually convince her (with the help of her honest and awesome GF shopping companion) that a pair of jeans that fits her body is a good thing. I'm often tempted to rip the size tags out of every pair she tries on, so she doesn't psyche herself out by thinking, "There's no way I'm a size 2 or 4, or 6, or 12, or 14," etc. This is also a common mental block for Mom Jeans shoppers, because though they acknowledge that vanity sizing has taken over for true sizing in the last few decades, they still can't get over "the number."
"The number" on a size tag in a pair of jeans can strip me of any ability to find the Moms and the Strange-Body-Image-Warped Adult Females a pair of jeans. It often nullifies any expertise I bring to the conversation regarding comfort, fit and appropriate length. It is the most annoying part of my job and sometimes I wish numbers didn't exist. But until I open Bree's Stretch Pants, Band T-Shirts, Draping Sweaters and Uggs Emporium and size everything using a complex system of colors and shapes, I'll continue to play the psychological numbers game.
Finally, there's The Cougar. I'm not a fan of this term to describe women, but it works in reference to the type of jeans they are looking for -- they like anything labeled "sexy" and the more embellished the pockets, the better. They like light-washed flare jeans -- which can be hard to find these days, as the word "flare" has basically been outlawed in mall fashion. Shirt Folding Store has trained me to say "boot cut" or "wider leg-opening," but Cougs don't wanna hear that.
The thing about these women is, much like the Mom, they would actually look good in the right skinny jeans, but they don't want to give up their time-stamped style, not even just to try on a pair. They also don't want to listen to me because they don't believe I've worked at SFS for seven years and that I am, in fact, in my thirties, not some 21-year-old college asshole.
Since I have no actual denim credentials from Shirt Folding Store, I guess it's always going to be me against the denim-misunderstanding world.