Concerning Inflation, Pants, and Getting Old
by Joshua Michtom
This is how it starts. This is the feeling of turning into an old person.
I am aware, and have made my peace with, the much remarked-upon phenomenon of musical tastes frozen at the time of adolescence. While I try to make forays into This Noisy Music All The Kids Are Listening To, I always come back to Big Daddy Kane, KRS-1, EPMD, and the like. I will be this way until I die, and it’s OK. But there is another way I am stuck: in my conception of What Pants Should Cost. This is much more problematic.
I moved out of my father’s house when I was 17, and I have been solely in charge of pants acquisition during the 20 years since (with some periodic, half-hearted intervention from romantic partners). In those two decades, I have become appreciably better at many of the things I started doing at 17, but not buying pants. I am irrevocably stuck with the notion that I should be able to acquire a decent pair of khakis or other office-worthy slacks for $25.
Naturally, that is no longer the case: to begin with, you need $40 to achieve the same buying power as $25 in 1994. On top of that, since the age of 17, I have gained an inch in height and, well, enough pounds to go up one waist size. But somehow, I can’t adjust. Once I can’t find pants that fit at the price I want (which is to say, always), reason just goes out the window. For years, this has resulted in my buying work pants that ended up being a little too short.
A few months ago, I resolved not to buy too-short work pants anymore. The issue is that when I grew in my early 20s, my inseam went from 34″ to 36″. Apparently, retail stores have done some math that says that it’s not worth stocking ready-to-wear pants that long. So I decided to buy pants online, where they do have 36″ inseams. This seemed great: I ordered some Dockers, which I remembered from absurd, smarmy ads in the 90s. (Are they dad pants? Yes. But I am a dad.) Their cost was in line with my inflation-adjusted platonic ideal of pants pricing. But it didn’t work for exactly the reason that you’d expect: when you can’t try things on, you can’t try them on. The pants I got in the mail fit funny.
So yesterday, I went to that great paragon of the middle-brow masquerading as high-brow, Joseph A. Bank, where the pants are guaranteed to be long enough because they are all unhemmed and you have to get them tailored to fit. Having seen Saturday Night Live’s recent send-up of the store’s a-million-for-the-price-of-one suits (below), I figured I would do alright.
It turns out that the way they can sell three pairs of pants for the price of one (or, as they confusingly explain it, if you buy one at 50% off, you get two more for the price of one at a 50% discount) is that the pants are really expensive and you pay for tailoring. One pair theoretically costs $185 (!), so after the weird discount and the $12/pair cost of hemming, I paid $240 (with tax) for three pairs of lightweight wool pants.
Is $80 for a pair of business casual pants normal? It’s so far from my youthful benchmark that I feel wholly at sea. It doesn’t help that as recently as three years ago, Target was selling two-piece men’s suits for $100 (they did have 36″ inseams. I bought three.) $80 still feels like a lot of money. And am I the only person who can’t adjust clothing price expectations for inflation? Food cost increases haven’t fazed me and I know better than to think of housing and tuition costs as anything other than inscrutable magical realism. But pants! I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “in my day.”
Josh Michtom is a public defender in Hartford, Connecticut. He spends way too much of his spare time decorating his children’s school lunch bags.
Photo by the author.