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Dear Matt, Once a man enters his forties, shopping for casual clothes involves walking a fine line between desperation and capitulation. By example, for years I reliably bought basic, affordable, reasonably stylish jeans at The Gap. Now they’re all tailored for androgynous waifs with venous disorder. I’m left choosing between overpriced boutique denim, those grommeted, flap pocketed monstrosities, the Minivan Collection at Kohl’s, or looking like Pete Mitchell on port call circa 1986 in a pair of Levi’s. Recalling your very useful manifesto on fishing gear, I wonder if you have any advice on this subject you’d be willing to share. — G.C.
Ahh yes, the old middle-aged guy jeans quandary. I know it well. Personally, I think of buying new jeans the way most people think of retirement savings. It’s a reality that must eventually be faced, but one that I try to ignore, hoping it will miraculously work itself out in the end. I wear jeans, of course. All the time. I’d be wearing them now, if I weren’t wearing my old Juicy Couture shorts, which keep me cooler and more aerodynamic while writing. But now that the entire world has gone gay — not sexually, but aesthetically — it has become a much taller order for a heterosexual middle-aged man to buy respectable dungarees that don’t make his ass look like an hors d’oeuvres tray during happy hour down at the Meat Rack, or that don’t cause his sack to resemble two hedgehogs wrestling in an umbrella sleeve.
The other option, of course, is to wear the billowy, too-pale mom jeans favored by Peebles-shoppers and Jeff Foxworthy-lovers. Not a good look unless you want to be a ticket-taker at an Oak Ridge Boys concert or work in the gift-shop at the Cracker Barrel, pushing Brad Paisley CDs to people who think they have not had a meal unless it includes at least four varieties of starches, one of them being dumplin’s.
So despite your protestations, the Gap is still probably your best middle-ground option. I’d go with the “1969” Premium Jeans. Stay with the Standard cut in a darker wash, which sits just below the waist, and is straight through the leg. Stay away from all their jeans with “slim” or “authentic skinny” prefixes. Act your age, not your shoe size. You are not the lead singer for One Direction. You are a middle-aged guy who likely has a mortgage and a second-trimester beer paunch. Embrace the weight of your station in life, and dress accordingly.
If you stay with this Gap utility model, here’s what you won’t get: no grommets or pocket flaps. No holes that were made by an assembly line punch machine. No piping. (If you’re a man, you should never, ever buy pants with piping, nor should you even know what piping is.) Yes, the androgynous waif you speak of might buy a pair of Gap jeans on occasion, if he’s hard up and/or on a budget. But he’ll be positively sick about it, and won’t admit it to his boutique-denim-loving friends, thus preserving your middle-aged street cred. Think of Gap jeans as being kind of like the GI character in the Village People. It’s not that he doesn’t belong on the same stage as his bandmates. But he’s not nearly as flaming as the Indian Chief or the Construction Worker. Similarly, Gap jeans are the least gay of what has become a very gay genre. Perhaps they’re not as straight as the Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe-endorsed Lee Jeans, available at Kohl’s, which make you look like you’re about to put on some protective gloves so you can collect bat guano in an empty Mountain Dew bottle (in other words, a little too straight). But neither are they as fashion forward as these latex skinny jeans for men, which double as an excellent form of birth control, since if you wear them, no woman in her right mind would want to have sex with you. What I aim to say is that there is a space between these two extremes. Let’s call that space “The Gap.”