Are Your Pants Lying to You? An Investigation
September 7, 2010 at 8:30AM by Abram Sauer
"I said, 'I do not fear those pants / With nobody inside them.'
I said, and said, and said those words. / I said them. But I lied them."
The devastating realization came in H&M. Specifically, in a pair of size 36 dress pants. I'd never bought pants at H&M before, and suddenly asked myself: how could a 36-inch waist suddenly be so damn tight?
I've never been slim — I played offensive line in high school — but I'm no cow either. (I'm happily a "Russell Crowe" body type.) So I immediately went across the street, bought a tailor's measuring tape, and trudged from shop to shop, trying on various brands' casual dress pants. It took just two hours to tear my self-esteem to smithereens and raise some serious questions about what I later learned is called "vanity sizing."
Your pants have been deceiving you for years. And the lies are compounding:
The pants manufacturers are trying to flatter us. And this flattery works: Alfani's 36-inch "Garrett" pant was 38.5 inches, just like the Calvin Klein "Dylan" pants — which I loved and purchased. A 39-inch pair from Haggar (a brand name that out-testosterones even "Garrett") was incredibly comfortable. Dockers, meanwhile, teased "Leave yourself some wiggle room" with its "Individual Fit Waistline," and they weren't kidding: despite having a clear size listed, the 36-inchers were 39.5 inches. And part of the reason they were so comfy is that I felt good about myself, no matter whether I deserved it.
However, the temple for waisted male self-esteem is Old Navy, where I easily slid into a size 34 pair of the brand's Dress Pant. Where no other 34s had been hospitable, Old Navy's fit snugly. The final measurement? Five inches larger than the label. You can eat all the slow-churn ice cream and brats you want, and still consider yourself slender in these.
I enjoyed many of these pants, as I mentioned, but I'm still perturbed. This isn't the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women's sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers! Should inches be different than miles per hour? Do highway signs make us feel better by informing us that Chicago is but 45 miles away when it's really 72? Multiplication tables don't yield to make us feel better about badness at math; why should pants make us feel better about badness at health? Are we all so many emperors with no clothes?
The mind-screw of broken pride aside — like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put back together, now that you know the truth — down-waisting is genuine cause for concern. A recent report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that men with larger waists were twice at risk of death compared with their smaller-waist peers. Men whose waists measured 47 inches or larger were twice as likely to die. Yet, most men only know their waist size by their pants — so if those pants are up to five inches smaller than the reality, some men may be wrongly dismissing health dangers.
But vanity waist sizing is so entrenched, it couldn't possibly be changed overnight, at least not without a government mandate. The only solution seems to be a gradual, year-by-year shaving of quarter-inch by quarter-inch until, in 2021, men's pants finally correspond with the label numbers — conveniently just in time for the New World Order's switch to mandatory full jumpsuits.