Hi, I’m Mary, and this is my column no one asked for about things I like!
I have a drawer full of pants that seems mostly symbolic at this point, a vestige of a life I once lived in a society that insisted I be strapped into some unforgiving fabric outside the sweatpants-safe confines of my own home. Everyone’s talking about “hard pants” lately (I insist my friend Meaghan Strickland coined this term in March, ahem), but pants have always been hard for me because I am (spoiler alert) a woman, and a little known fact about women’s clothing is that it’s rarely made to fit actual women’s actual bodies. I sometimes think I’d have total confidence in my body if even one pair of pants on this entire Earth was made to fit my particular petite, curvy form, but alas even my petite, curvy fit jeans are neither petite nor curvy enough for all this ass lol.
Since I stopped wearing pants, I’ve found myself reminiscing about them as if they were old friends who moved away and never joined social media. The light stone Abercrombie cargo pants I wore in middle school have gone the way of my high school friend Colin who, last I heard, was teaching math and scaling mountains in Montana, possibly (probably?) while wearing cargo pants, though I doubt the pockets of his are lined with as many maxi pads as those of my adolescent A&Fs. Those pants were a size 8 (I remember the exact size of every single pair of pants I’ve ever bought), a fact which brought me, at the delicate age of 13, so much shame. Though I’d downsized from my sixth grade size of a women’s 12, I was keenly aware that acceptable middle school girls wore a size 4 or smaller (preferably smaller). When my cargos became baggy, I continued to wear them as a source of pride, alternating with a size 6 (still shameful, but progress!) pair of navy flared Abercrombie cargos that were about 3 inches too long and 4 inches too low on the hip (Britney was big, as was her signature look: the visible thong). Though my decrease in pant size was proof that I had finally, mercifully shrunk, the pockets of my navy cargos still folded at my hips and jutted out sideways, an embarrassment which my mother never failed to point out. “I wonder why they do that on you but not the model,” she’d say innocently, though she knew exactly why: my hips, mom. For the record, her pants would have done the same had they not been so extravagantly pleated. (I bought a pair of pleated shorts this summer and now I understand that pleats=freedom! As always, my mom knew best.)
In those days, my greatest fear was that someone would find out I had my period, so I kept pads hidden on my person, lest someone see me taking one out of my locker or gigantic bookbag (my older siblings’ friends called me backpack girl in those days because I walked around like a tiny hermit crab that had colonized the shell of a much larger creature, buckling under the weight of my portable shelter) and waited until the bathroom was empty to exchange my soiled Super XL Always for a fresh one. If the bathroom didn’t empty and the bell started ringing, I would refuse to change my pad, no matter how bloody, and thus I was forced to tie a Gap sweater around my waist to hide a giant red stain on the back of my light stone cargos more than once. Now when I have my period, I can’t shut the fuck up about it. I tell everyone, even strangers. Progress?
My second greatest fear was that someone would find out my pant size. It seemed like every time I went to the mall (once a year, twice max), I spent the duration of my time in the dressing room struggling to secure a button over my gut amidst of a chorus of confident voices saying, “Actually, I think the zero is too big. Can you get me a double zero?” Once during social studies, a popular girl asked me what size pants I wore and in an uncharacteristic attempt at self-actualization, I told her, “size 8.”
“What? That’s huge!” she said.
I panicked. I had to think quickly, before my second worst fear came true and the entire 8th grade knew I was, if no longer fat, then at least not thin. “Oh wait, I thought you said shoes. In pants, I’m a 4.”
“That makes way more sense,” she said, smiling. “Me too, except in shoes I’m an 8 and a half.”
She stepped her sneaker next to mine to compare. I should have told her she had fat feet.
But I regress (ha-ha). The point is, pants feel harder now than they have since those nascent non-elastic waist pants wearing days, their stiff buttons and rigid flies too constraining for our relaxed flesh. Having our middles squeezed and shaped is an unnatural feeling but one which we all grew accustomed to, in our former lives of dressing up and going out. Now, the idea of a garment that molds my loose body into some tighter form seems positively sci-fi.
To be fair, I always feel bad about pants this time of year. After months spent pulling loose-on-the-leg cutoff shorts out of my crotch, putting on pants that make full contact with all 360 degrees of my (thicc) thighs is always a shock. My once free legs feel jailed, trapped in stiff denim when they long to feel the breeze, however cool.
The handful of times it was cool enough to wear pants this summer, I wore exactly one pair: my petite curvy fit (lol) jeans. They have no stretch so even when doing something as simple as lifting my leg aboard a sedan, I’m forced to enlist the creativity of an interpretive dancer. They still button and zip in all the right places and yet I just can’t shake the feeling that they used to be looser, or at least they used to feel looser, and that it’s my body rather than the pants that feels so wrong.
When I spiral into pants-induced anguish, I remind myself they feel so extra wrong right now because I spent the summer living in a pair of shorts that felt so miraculously right: the Nike motherfucking Tempo. In college, I bought three pairs of Nike Tempos that I wore for the next decade, long past the point when they were actually wearable (even loose athletic shorts can get crotch holes!), through countless weight fluctuations, during countless visits to countless gyms (I could definitely count all the gyms but who has the time? Oh, that’s right, me!). By the end of their lives, I was straight up Weekend at Bernie’s-ing these shorts, tying their no-longer-elastic waists tight so their polyester corpses could dangle limply over my privates as I paraded around Brooklyn in dirty Asics sneakers.
When I finally got rid of my Nike shorts, I replaced them with a few pairs of Gap athletic shorts, which were shorter and made of some strange, vaguely stretchy material that clung to my thighs in unexpected places. While I didn’t love these shorts, they did the job of covering the exact part of my body that shorts are supposed to cover while allowing my legs plenty of freedom of movement, so I wore them. This summer, however, I knew I would need more from my shorts—and also more pairs of shorts since once the temperatures hit 70, I may have been trapped inside but my legs longed to be free, baby! Even my denim shorts felt too restrictive, so I did what I do best: I started online shopping. I quickly discovered that Zappos was having a sale (ahhh!) on Nike Tempo shorts. Several colors were $22.50, down from their standard price of $30. So I did the other thing I do best: I ordered six of the same item in a few different colors.
And guess what? My only regret is that I didn’t get more! Nike Tempos are the perfect athletic short. Unlike Umbros, which I ordered for nostalgia’s sake and promptly returned, they’re actually cut for a woman’s shape. They’re also a bit longer than most women’s running shorts, many of which have a nonsensical inseam of 2 or 3 inches (don’t tell me I’m the only jogger on these streets without a thigh gap), especially in the crucial crotch area. They’re loose, flattering and comfortable enough to run in (though I do occasionally find myself shoving my hand between my thighs to extract Nike’s trademark Dri-FIT technology from my nethers) and they’re even better for the one thing I’ve been most focused on these past few months: existing. They’re also excellent apparel for surviving, living and just being.
I love these shorts so much that I almost wish Nike made a pants version, though I know they’d be, if not hard, then at least more difficult than the shorts. Shorts have their issues (vacuum pussy, anyone?) but pants have so many more issues since they have to encase more of the body. Plus, wearing athletic shorts around town in the summer is one thing, but wearing track pants is a whole other. Who am I trying to look like, Paulie Walnuts? That would be crazy because everyone knows I’m a total Silvio!
Unfortunately, it’ll soon be time to shove my shorts to the back of my drawer. Already I see people walking around in full-on hard pants and light jackets and even bundling up in scarves as they dine al fresco on chilly evenings. Soon, even I will be forced to wear at least two, if not all six pairs of hard pants I own (one is on its way out, the most comfortable and therefore least flattering pair, of course!) because even when we’re stuck at home, my absolute lunatic of a boyfriend insists on wearing real pants around me, which makes me feel obligated to do the same (at least until dessert).
I guess that’s why pants feel extra hard this year: because our legs are losing their freedom now, which reminds us that our entire bodies will (probably) be uncomfortably stuck inside soon too. Even if that means our hard pants will be traded for soft ones, if we learned anything last spring, it’s that even the most comfortable sweatsuit in the world can feel like a (minimum security Norwegian) prison.
But I’m getting ahead of myself (and the news). This week, it’s warm and I’m banging around town in my favorite shorts, clinging to the last gasp of a summer filled with mid-week beach trips and elastic waist clothing. The calendar may say it’s fall but I say if my legs can be exposed to the elements without breaking out into shivering goosebumps, it’s Tempo time.
One last thing: in the interest of conquering my fears, my Nike Tempos are a size medium and I got my period yesterday. It’s a bloodbath.
As always, I’d like to clarify that this is NOT a sponsored post. I received nothing for it and am pretty sure no one cares about the hardness of my pants. Still, if anyone is reading and ever wants to give me literally anything for free, athletic shorts or not, I WILL TAKE IT!!!!!!
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I’ll be back with more unsolicited recommendations soon!