February 18, 2012

I’ve really come to love clothes shopping over the past year or so. For most of my adult life, shopping was a mandatory but embarrassing experience: I was way too large for most retailers, so my shopping was done at two nearby big & tall stores, and that wardrobe was complimented by catalog purchases.

Things started changing when the pounds started coming off. Once I no longer needed to shop at big & tall stores (an epiphany I celebrate in this blog post), the whole mall opened up to me, and now I have fun checking out stores and seeing what fits me and what I like. I’ve learned a lot, and they’re still tons to figure out. I already know that I tend to have good luck at Macy’s (most of the time), and that my favorite type of Levi’s are their 514s (slim straight). I’m still on the hunt for a good basic t-shirt with a flattering cut, a heavier fabric, and a reasonable price tag. I’ve also discovered what doesn’t work for me, and that information is just as valuable: I know some brands and labels that run short or are too narrow for my shoulders. And there are stores I used to frequent, like Gap (which I wore a lot of in high school), that just don’t interest me anymore.

What’s most fun, however, is walking into a store that I know nothing about and checking it out for the first time. I did this last summer in Seattle with a store called AllSaints Spitelfield, and it was a complete bust, but still fun. The other day, I did it again, with a store called Zara.

The first time I heard about Zara was a few weeks ago, when I met up with my friends Paul and Court at the Getty Center (an outing which yielded kickass ‘before’ and ‘current’ pictures that you can check out here). I complimented Paul on his shirt, which came from Zara, which is one of Paul’s go-to stores. Then, about a week ago, I complimented Tavi (ugh, yes, this is yet another blog post that Tavi figures into) on a sweater he was wearing, and that, too, came from Zara. It was time to check out Zara.

Zara is a Spanish retailer that only has about 25 stores in the US (and about a 1/4 of them are in southern California), but they’re all over Europe – actually, they’re in over 70 countries on 6 continents. They’re huge. The other day, Tavi and I went to the one in Pasadena, which is housed in an festively festooned storefront on Colorado Boulevard:

The men’s section is large, clean, and well organized:

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so I wandered, and ended up pulling two large armloads of clothes to try on: pants, jeans, sweaters, t-shirts (maybe they’ll have the perfect basic T for me!). I picked up things at Tavi’s suggestion that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Generally, I liked the aesthetic: a nice mix between clean lines and fun details, with a lot of neutral colors and bold pops of color. I was reminded of the description Paul initially gave me of the store, which turned out to be pretty spot-on: H&M style at a Banana Republic price point. I also noticed, from the get-go, that a lot of their offerings were slouchy and lacking in structure, which is not a flattering look on my body, but I reserved judgment until the dressing room.

The dressing room was illuminating. I learned, really quickly, that Zara is not the store for me. The textiles were a little thin and the European sizing was a little different, resulting in tops that, much to my chagrin, proudly showcased every roll of fat on my body. It was laughable how unflattering these clothes were: they clung like saran wrap, and I felt and looked like a sausage. I fared a little better with the pants – there was a pair of jeans that looked good. They were size 38″ (the largest size Zara makes), although they were the tightest 38″ I’ve ever tried on. They cost $80, and I’m not gonna spent that much on anything that I don’t absolutely love, and these jeans didn’t quite fall into the “love” category.

I was fine with completely striking out at Zara. I was curious about the store, and now I have my answer. I’ve since done a little reading about Zara, and their business model is kinda fascinating. They do no advertising whatsoever, and focus on clothes that are already trendy and popular, as opposed to trying to establish trends of their own. They can design a knock-off and have it in stores in 2 weeks, and if that item doesn’t sell within a week or two, they’ll yank it from the shelves. As a result, they’ll sell 10,000 unique items during a year-long span, compared to 2,000-4,000 items for their competitors. They’ve resisted outsourcing more than other companies, and claim that 75% of their clothes are made in Europe (mostly Spain). I recommend the Zara page on Wikipedia for an interesting primer on fashion retailing.

Zara’s not for me. Big deal. I’m not in the market at the moment for any clothes anyway, except workout pants, which I should be able to find easily at a discount store or on the sale rack at a sporting goods store.

Do you have any ideas for retailers that I can investigate next?

Keep it up, David!


My Incredible Shrinking Clothes – Jeans Edition

September 7, 2011

I’ve covered lots of different types of clothing in the “My Incredible Shrinking Clothes” series on this blog, from my swimsuits to my dress shirts (all six prior editions are archived on the My Favorite Posts page), but today’s post is about one of the most popular types of clothing that can be found in nearly everyone’s closet…


Usually, these posts include a photo of a piece of clothing that I wore at my heaviest, which I compare to clothing I can fit into now, but this post is a little different, because I don’t have any pairs of jeans from when I was at my heaviest.  It may be hard to believe, but for a span of close to a decade, I didn’t wear jeans at all.  I didn’t even own a pair.

At some point in college I stopped liking jeans.  As my waistline expanded, I found them less and less comfortable.  Meanwhile, the pants in my closet that I grew to favor most had one thing in common: elastic waistbands.

Oh, elastic waistband, how I loved you!  You made my life so easy.  I never had to pay attention to my actual pants size, because elastic waistband pants aren’t sold by the number, they’re sold in basic Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large sizes.  I was a 3XL.  Plus, elastic waistbands are forgiving after junk food binges – you never have to worry about not fitting into them the next day.

As my love and reliance on elastic grew, my love for denim shrunk, and by the time I moved out to California after college, there was none left in my closet.  I found jeans with elastic waistbands at the big & tall store, but they were so goofy, unflattering, and ugly that I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing them.  So I went jeans-free.

By June 2010, I had lost around 80 pounds, and the thought started percolating in my brain that maybe it was time to buy my first pair of jeans in a looooong time.  Despite my 80-pound loss, I was still too big to shop at major retailers, so I went to the big & tall store and started trying jeans on.  I found a pair that fit that were 46″ around the waist.  A few months later, I was able to buy 44s.  A few months after that, I bought my first pair of 42s, and the bigger sizes ended up in the donation bin at Goodwill.  And so on.

Lately I’ve been noticing that my current jeans are a little looser, and then all my friends on the kayaking trip I went on last month came to the consensus that my jeans were just too big.  That’s when I started trying on jeans, and realizing that I was fitting into jeans that were one size smaller.  That’s an amazing feeling, by the way.  Even though smaller jeans were fitting, I wasn’t finding any that were quite right for me:  the cut wasn’t flattering, I wasn’t nuts about the finish or color, there was some other detail or stitching that bothered me.

The other day I went shopping with my mom, and I finally ended up coming home with a new pair of jeans.  It’s my first new pair in about 6 months, and yep, they’re a new smaller size.

Ladies and Gentlemen, take a look at my SIZE 36″ JEANS!

They’re Levi’s 514 jeans, waist 36″; length 32″.  514 jeans are called Slim Straight, which means the jeans are slim cut through the butt and thigh, but have a straight leg.  They’re comfortable, and even though you can’t see it in the picture, they make my ass look good!

While fitting into 36″ jeans is certainly a notable milestone by itself, there’s a greater milestone that I must mention.  Even though I wore elastic pants almost exclusively before I started losing weight, I went to a wedding two summers ago that required the purchase of a new suit.  The suit pants that I bought were size 56″ waist.  That’s right, folks…

…I’ve lost TWENTY INCHES around my waist!

Keep it up, David!

Hello, Gap, I’m Back!

November 14, 2010

I shopped at the Gap yesterday for the first time in over a decade.

I remember shopping at Gap pretty much my entire childhood.   I remember going to Gap (then called The Gap) at Maple and Telegraph in Birmingham, Michigan with my mom and older siblings when I was too little to fit in the clothes (I don’t recall there being GapKids in our area at that time).  I remember shopping there when I could fit in the clothes.  I remember when I started getting too big for Gap, in high school and college, and suggesting to my mom that we not shop there, so I could avoid the embarrassment of taking things into the dressing room and not fitting in any of them.  My mom has a really good friend who used to work at Gap, and I remember in college when she would set aside for me the one or two XXL shirts her location would receive in a shipment.  I appreciated her thinking of me – it was really very sweet of her – and at the same time was a little mortified that I could barely be accommodated by a mass retailer that sold clothes that I liked.

Soon, I couldn’t fit in the XXLs anyway.

Ever since my college days, my clothes shopping has been limited to Big & Tall stores and Big & Tall catalogs.  I bought everything from Big & Tall companies, from underwear to suits.  Now that I’m 147 pounds lighter, though, I can shop in many many MANY more retailers – the whole mall is pretty much available to me.  It’s too bad that, due to being unemployed at the moment, I can’t really afford to do a lot of shopping!

Some visual aids:  You can see the difference between the clothes I was wearing at my heaviest and the clothes I’m wearing now here and here.  And here’s the link to one of my favorite posts – my final visit EVER to my local Casual Male XL big & tall store.

This bring us to the present.  Right now, I’m in the market for new pants.  The last time I got new pants was over Labor Day weekend, and they were waist size 42.  Now they’re saggy and baggy on me, which means I can probably fit in size 40 pants.  For those unfamiliar with buying men’s pants, that marks a pretty big milestone, because size 40 is the largest waist size that many mass retailers, including Gap, carry in their stores.  They may carry larger sizes online or in catalogs, but I’m not going to shop anymore without trying stuff on, because now I can.

Yesterday I went to a really fun event at Second City in the heart of Hollywood, and I was coming from the suburbs, where I had gone to see my cousin race in his cross-country meet.  I got back to Hollywood about 45 minutes before the Second City thing started, and about 4 blocks away is a Gap, so I headed over there, and for the first time since I don’t know when, walked inside.

I headed over towards the men’s jeans, and soon encountered a decision-making process I haven’t encountered in a while… what type of cut?  When you’re buying pants with a 58″ waist (as I was at my heaviest), you don’t get the pleasure of deciding between cuts.  You buy the pair that’s 58″.  Now I’m staring a wall that’s divided up in sections marked Straight, Boot, Authentic (whatever that means), Easy, and more.  I ruled out Skinny, as I have no intention of dressing like a Jonas Brother, and settled on Standard, because, well, it sounds like a good, standard pair of jeans.  I also grabbed a 40″ pair of Straight leg jeans, just to try something different.

Then, off to the dressing room!  They fit!  I took a couple pictures.  You’ll have to ignore my doofy expressions in them – it was challenge framing the pics on my crappy Blackberry camera to get as much of a head-to-toe shot as possible in the tiny dressing room space, and I thinking about that while snapping away.

First, me in the Straight jeans:

These were pre-distressed for my convenience, which I liked, but a little snug down the legs.  Turns out, according to the Gap website, Straight leg is only 1 up from Skinny on the Skinny-to-Loose scale of different cuts.

Here’s the Standard pair:

I liked these more, and they fit better through the leg, but even though they fit at the waist, they was a little extra room in the butt (I tried to get a picture with me turned around, but I couldn’t make it work).

I headed back into the store to investigate a few more cuts, but got distracted by a lot of the other merchandise.  Turns out, I didn’t really care for a lot of it.  They have a lot of basics, but I was kinda thinking as I walked from my car that I would be really excited about their clothes, due to my history of liking them, and I just wasn’t.  Nothing really screamed ‘you would look great in this’ or ‘you have to buy that’.  Not to mention that the jeans I tried on were $54.50 and $69.50.  That’s not outrageous for jeans, I don’t think, but it is outrageous for transition jeans.  I will be losing more weight, and going down in waist size, and I’m not spending that much money on jeans I’ll wear for just a few months!

It was then that I checked my watch and realized I should start heading back to Second City.  As I walked out, not haven’t purchased anything, I thought, ‘Nice to be back, Gap.  But you’ve changed, and so have I.  I’ll give you another chance when I get to my final goal weight, but until then, I’ll just remain excited at the fact that I could shop here, even though I don’t want to.  Smell ya later!’  And down the sidewalk I went.

Keep it up, David!