It was 1999. I was sixteen years old and I’d dragged my mother to Woden Plaza to buy me some jeans.
I’d always wanted jeans but I could never find any that fit. Jeans in the 90s were made for slim hipped girls who ate chips for lunch without consequence and never had to worry about their fat rolls hanging over the top of their pants. Luckily I went to a school that had a uniform so we all looked as hideous as each other from Monday to Friday but weekends? Weekends were stressful for me.
I favoured elastic waisted skirts and flowy tops from Tree of Life. Not because I liked them or because they were my style, it was simply the only place to get clothes that fit me that wasn’t a daggy plus sized store.
Whenever I went jeans shopping it usually ended in tears. All the trendy kids bought their jeans from the one cool shop in Canberra that sold Levis and Guess. Rigid, tiny, very fashionable denim that was only available to people with a BMI under 20. I’d tried to buy jeans at this store before but the achingly gorgeous sales girls and the moody, pretty sales boys had no idea how to help me so I always left empty handed.
I’d seen an ad in Cleo magazine about these new stretch, curvy fit jeans at Jeans West and I was desperate to try them out. My mother and I walked tentatively walked into the store and we were greeted by the loveliest girl called Nikki. She was exactly what a very self conscious, overweight 16 year old needed. She didn’t make any comments about my body, just expertly looked me up and down and handed me pairs of jeans that she knew would work. She managed to find a perfect pair of jeans that fit and I walked out feeling like a semi-normal teenager for the first time in my life. She also didn’t lie to me, I came out squished into an ill fitting pair of high waisted jeans and Nikki said ‘Nope! Get em’ off. Let’s try these ones…’. She didn’t give me time to lament about my short legs and thick middle, she just sped through the styles of jeans until she found the right ones. It totally changed the way I shop for jeans and I’ve only ever shopped in proper jeans stores since then. I actually forgot this even happened until last weekend when I went to exchange a pair of jeans that Jeans West sent me to try.
Rather than sending them backwards and forwards to the head office until I got the right size, I took myself off to the Victoria Gardens store and exchanged them myself. The lovely woman who served me there was outstanding. She gave excellent advice about what to look for to serve my particular body shape and I walked out with a pair of jeans I pretty much haven’t stopped wearing since Sunday and I’m a hard non-jeans wearer! It was all due the service of the lovely sales woman. Her manner was very similar to the lovely Nikki who helped me out so many years ago. I actually have no idea if that’s typical of the service there or I just fluked getting awesome sales people but either way it’s worth a mention that I’ve had two extremely positive jeans buying experiences at Jeans West, almost 15 years apart.
Top from Jeans West (gifted)
Men’s belt from Jeans West – random fact but I had an amazing woven brown belt that I hadn’t worn in years so I donated it to Vinnie’s and I really regret it. It’s the one thing I lost in my last minimalist clean out that I wish I didn’t get rid of. That’s why I had to buy a belt, to replace the one I ditched.
Cardigan from Anthropologie
However, even when you have someone awesome to help you out, the whole experience can still be a bit rubbish. Here’s why shopping for jeans sucks…
1. Most jeans stores and brands don’t cater for different body types
When I was in uni in the early noughties it was super cool to have a pair of Bettina Liano jeans. In 2002, having recently lost some weight, I was just able to fit into a size 12, I went into a Bettina Liano store in Sydney and tried on these magical jeans. They barely covered my butt. They fit, but I had ass crack for days hanging out the top of my waistband. Lianos were just not meant to be for my body type, even at my thinnest. I’ve avoided any trendy, cult style jeans since then as brands like this tend to be cut for a particular body shape and it never seems to be MY body shape.
2. Most sales people aren’t trained well enough to sell jeans
I don’t envy anyone the task of selling people jeans. You need to be a therapist, sales person, mood enhancer, self esteem booster and brand representative. You also somehow have to hide everyone’s body ‘flaws’ without ever actually mentioning them or pointing them out. It’s really freaking hard which is why you need to shop in stores where they train their staff well.
3. Traditional denim + curves don’t work
There’s no stretch in traditional denim and if you have bit of extra padding, like most of us do, you need a bit of stretch. Stretch denim didn’t become mainstream until the 80s/90s and it’s only gotten better since then. If you haven’t bought jeans in the last 20 years because you were so scarred from your last shopping experience, give stretch denim a go. Hot tip: Head to the professionals and ditch the trendy, cult jeans stores.
4. Change rooms are hell on earth
Whose idea was it to put fluorescent lighting in change rooms? Sadists. No matter how wonderful your sales person is or how amazing the jeans are, you’re never going to feel like a goddess when you can see your white-lit body from every single angle, 10 minutes after you shoved a slice of food court banana bread in your gob for a last minute breakfast. Change rooms are a necessary evil but the good news is that almost everything looks better outside of the change room. Hot tip: Don’t watch yourself squeezing your gut into skinnies. It’s not hot or helpful. Best just avoid eye contact with your mirror-self until you’re sure you look respectable.
5. Even if you have an amazing sales person, you’re going to need to go through a tour of The Worst Parts Of Your Body to get the right fit
I’m much more comfortable with my body now than when I was a teenager so I go in armed with all the facts the sales person needs. I have a long torso, where I carry all my weight and short legs that don’t look short but they actually are. Most good sales people won’t say anything about your body but if you know you’ve had fit issues with certain body parts in the past, throw them a bone and point that out. If you have an ample behind, rubenesque thighs or super curvy hips, own it and verbalise this to your sales person. It’s much easier to dress a Kim Kardashian butt if the person who owns the butt admits it’s there. You also know your body better than anyone. I frequently get told I’m ‘busty’ by sales people but I’m actually not. I have c-cup boobs, so if something is fitting tightly across my chest, it’s my football player shoulders that are the culprit not my rather modest rack. This kind of information is very helpful so be forth coming with it.
This outfit was worn for a day of writing – blog posts, presentations, patterns and emails – and then visiting my bestie who just a baby. This is totally off topic but she smells incredible right now because she’s breast feeding. She smells like sweetened condensed milk and vanilla cake, I literally cannot stop sniffing her. So good. Plus her bub is cute as a button. So delightful.
I’m off to a fun dinner date with some lovely friends tonight and tomorrow I’ve got the final sew it up day for the Vision In Blue blanket – hopefully we can get this sucker done and ready for auction this weekend.
Oh also don’t forget Sweet Teen Club is back! We’ve recently done episodes on Will and Grace, The Internet in The 90s and Jurassic Park. Get it in your ears!