Privilege Blog

A Deconstruction Of Baggy Pants Syndrome, Or, Clothing Isn’t Simple

October, 2011. These pants were, indeed, too big.

Blogging has taught me so much. About confession, about persistence, about the Hail Mary of creative writing.

And that I wear my pants too big.

Perhaps I should say, wore my pants too big, in the past tense. Because I recently took 8 pairs to the tailor, and started buying a size smaller than ever before. This isn’t very interesting, in and of itself. Headline. “Breaking News: Middle-Aged Californian Woman Wears Pants That Fit.”

But it was kind of interesting to deconstruct. Because maybe you too may have a quirky or unconscious sartorial habit, one that does not serve you well. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to leave bad choices behind without a little analysis.

Turns out my baggy pant syndrome had two root causes.

Comfort And Discomfort

In my 30s I developed terrible sciatica. I spent a year, when my son was 2, lying on the floor because sitting hurt too much. You can imagine this went over really well in business meetings. In those days, pant waistlines happened to cross, directly, the L5 vertebra that was causing my problem. Impinged nerves hurt even more when bound. A lesson for life.

But nowadays we can wear our pants at the hip. As it turns out, if my pants are tight at the hip, they leave my unquiet nerves in peace. Even so, not until the young J. Crew saleswoman cajoled me on the open floor, “Yes, really, that’s how they should fit,” could I give up my bag and sag.

December, 2011. I'm cold, but my pants fit

Body Image

The other cause of my baggy pant syndrome was more difficult to tease out. I spent some time thinking about the issue. As one does, right? Wearing flares, one day, I stared into the full body mirror in the bathroom at work. Good thing nobody came in. Why, I wondered, even when I had found a way around vertebral punishment, did I prefer this silhouette? Why choose volume when all feedback suggests sleek?

It dawned on me that I was trying to balance my shoulders. I have very broad shoulders, something discovered when I was measured for a college theatrical getup. “Oh look,” called out the costumer, “You have the biggest shoulders of everyone except the tennis captain.”

On the one hand, baggy pants encourage proportional harmony. But my choices weren’t primarily about aesthetics. In my heart I have always felt that my bulky shoulders make me look like a man. Alternatively, and this is a question beyond the scope of my particular skills, I felt masculine and pegged that feeling to my skeleton. Who knows?

When I tell you I have always felt bulky, I don’t mean fat. Not since my days of graduating from college, coping with anxiety via an eating disorder, have I felt fat. But I feel sturdy. Not feminine, not girlish. While I did feel like a woman, especially after I had my babies, in my set of cultural aesthetics womanly is not the same as feminine.

So when I wear loose, or wide-legged, pants, I feel just feminine enough. The implications stretch out across a blue horizon. We will  gesture in their direction, for now, and imagine orange light at sunset.

It is appropriate to ask, “Why no dresses then?” We’re taxing my capacity for self-understanding, but it’s hard to wear comfortable shoes with dresses. And I suppose I have a secret fear that my skirts will blow up over my head. What? You never worry about that?

So I could set out on a therapeutic course. Or, I could buy smaller trousers. Which is the kind of solution Sturdy Gals are apt to prefer. I made the tailor’s day, 8 pairs of pants draped over my arm, shoes in a paper bag for heel height, 30 years of body image trailing disconsolately behind.

Do you have a sartorial quirk, with buried roots?

78 Responses

  1. The new “fitting” pants look great on you! I think they make you look slimmer too (not that you need to look slimmer, I’m not suggesting ANYTHING!)

  2. You have such a wonderful shape, I love everything you wear and you flatter your shape without looking like you are trying too hard – like a modern-day Katharine Hepburn! I love you in smaller, more fitted pants but you could make anything look good, honest.

  3. Such a well-written and honest account of the too-big clothes phenomenon. Many wonem buy and wear clothes that are too big for them, but few have the insight or the courage to as themselves (let alone publicly) why, be it body image or just plain unawareness. Kudos to you! Now if we could only tackle the too short, too tight, too shiny phenomenon…..Not that anyone on HERE would have a problem in that department…

  4. I think you look great in both the before AND the after (how is that even fair?), and it was interesting to read your analysis.

    So much I could say on this topic, but I’ll just leave it at this: I struggle.

  5. Wow. I can relate to a lot of this, even/especially the part about balancing wide shoulders with baggier pants. And the question of femininity. It’s funny though, because tighter pants feel more feminine to me! Since they highlight/carve out the feminine curves of bum, thighs and hips.

    Viva le confidence! And the opportunity to learn in unexpected ways :)

  6. Better too baggy than too tight. Of course a nice balance is best. I like this post. Food for thought.

  7. I went through a similar process in changing out the jeans I was wearing. I wrote about it on my blog a year ago or so. It’s so strange how small bits of information get absorbed over time and create patterns. Then the brain, somehow, is not able to pull apart these bits of information. Or even, (more scary to me), that my brain came to conclusions without me being in charge! It makes me ponder how many other parts of my life are stuck in these same ruts that I can’t even see!

  8. You’re so smart LIsa, the bootcut is the most flattering look for any body type, despite what fashion dictates. I hauled in every pair of my j crew pants for tailoring and it was amazing how much better they look, as I have the misfortune to be between sizes, too undisciplined to stay a perfect 4, too small for a 6. As for other satorial missteps, I probably have many!

    xo Mary Jo

  9. Well, I enjoyed reading ‘Middle-Aged Californian Woman Wears Pants That Fit.’ I like your analytical approach to fashion. I wear my pants slightly loose, purely for comfort – can’t bear anything skintight – or when pants go up your bum, so to speak!

  10. I like your new pants look Lisa, but I think you always look great. Lately I like the look of the slim leg pants, especially on me and for my Florida lifestyle. But what works in Florida doesn’t always translate for the summer in the mountains. Much to my husband’s chagrin, for the most part I have two wardrobes with some interchangeable pieces.

  11. I can understand, that you have tried to balance your shoulders with flappy pants, but the tighter ones look so much better on you.
    How about wearing a knitted ( or fabric ) vest with your shirts, Tees?
    As I am frog-shapped ( long calves and arms ), I feel that I have to cut the length of my limbs somehow. So I prefer 3/4 length everything. Only in sweaters long sleeves are ok, as I can push them upwards, if needed.
    Long pants feel so awkward, can´t do it.

  12. I too suffered from baggy pants syndrome . They used to work but now look dowdy so have either been altered or consigned to charity and I recently bought some skinny jeans.. Much younger looking.

  13. Patterned fabrics make me nervous, but I’m trying to wear them more often.

    I also wanted to chime in on the aversion to dresses out of a fear that they’ll fly up over your head. Every time I wear a skirt, I’m gripped with an irrational concern that I’ll unwittingly leave the bathroom with my skirt stuck in my tights in a truly unfortunate manner. I still wear them, I just do a lot of checking to verify appropriate placement.

  14. You look great in the new pants! I’ve had to wean myself away from too baggy clothing as well. Give yourself credit for understanding that balance is important. :-) I’d tended to wear baggy clothing because a) as a child I’d always been taught that too tight clothing looked “trashy” and “cheap,” b) because my mother forced me to wear too tight (and very uncomfortable) clothing as a teen to motivate me to lose weight, and c) because I plain just wanted to hide. The last one has been the toughest to overcome.

  15. The first picture the trouser’s are too floppy & look uncomfortable,the 2nd one is more Lisa like + looking chic. Ida

  16. I once read that a “proper” proportion for a woman is for her shoulders to be wider than her hips. I have no idea where I read this. I’m not sure if i agree with it. However, it’s stuck with me, and makes me happy that my shoulders are more broad than narrow.

    On the subject of pants, you look lovely in both styles, but I’ll tell you, the pants in the first photo look too big. I’m wearing wide pants today, but they’re still fitted around the waist and bottom (as in tush, lol). You didn’t mention if your “new” pants make you feel as feminine and confidant as I imagine the baggy pants do. maybe you might want to try a wide legged pant that is still more fitted in all the “right” places? I bought two pairs at The Gap of all places recently, and I love them! They remind me of Theory pants but they’re under $100 so if I spill craft supplies on them I’m not going to cry. Oh the woes of working with children…

    Back on the point, you have a lovely figure. So I hope you can see how your wide shoulders are actually a blessing. I often wear very slim pants (also from The Gap and J. Crew). You might want to really expand your horizons! :)

  17. I love this analysis of the pants situation, and of course the new ones are so much better.
    So true, there is much meaning behind the clothes we wear!

  18. It seems to me that the slimmer trousers don’t just look neater, they give you feminine curves. Are broad shoulders a disadvantage? I have narrow shoulders and think broad ones sound wonderful (no ‘petite’ clothes required, balance for hips, look good in strapless dresses, possibly look as though you have better posture? – Then again, you probably do!). Good decision on the trousers.

  19. Wow. That picture is truly amazing!

    My sartorial quirk? Skirts. Long, slim ones with tall boots or cute flats. I would feel underdressed if I didn’t come to work in a skirt; I even wear them around the house. I started wearing them when I was in college, and I think it was partly because X liked them so much–it made me old-fashioned, different, and interesting. I don’t look like I came out of the nineteenth century anymore, but I think the vast majority of my colleagues have never seen me in trousers, ever.

  20. My main sartiorial quirk is that I rarely wear pants at all. (No, I’m not going around bottom-half naked, ala Donald Duck. I wear skirts.)

    The origin of this is that I need a 34″ inseam in flats, and for many years this was impossible to find. Now I can find that length, but not always the proper rise (I cannot wear pants at the hip, I need a higher rise), so that makes the search more difficult. I have finally managed to find a handful of well-fitting pants, but I never remember to wear them. :)

    I, like you, prefer some volume in the leg of pants because I find it feminine and pretty. But I think you must accomplish this by buying a size that fits your waist and hips, and just has a wider leg.

    I hope your newly-tailored, perfectly fitting pants bring you much joy.

  21. I was just thinking about skirts and dresses this morning, as I got dressed for a conference… I never wear them either. When asked why, I reply “I can’t climb trees in them,” even though it’s been at least a decade since I climbed a tree. But I still might need to crawl under a desk to plug something in, or go up open stairs. I could take the elevator, or ask someone else for help, but it feels like a handicap, taken on voluntarily.

    I like the trimmer fit pants as well. They flatter you. I think you could probably wear something in the middle between the two and still look both trim and flowing.

  22. Sleek is much better on you. One can tell by the look of you that you are the sort who will take pride in her shoes, so the less hidden they are the better.

    I too have wide shoulders. When you start a support group please put me down for the first wine and cheese evening.

  23. I’m smiling at the thought of those 30 years trailing behind you…….

    Wide shoulders are v. desirable. They make waists look tiny and legs long and sleek, like yours!

    xo Jane

  24. I suspect a lot of us have gone through pants-related body image issues. Right now I am thinking about how to dress my current body, which is not the one I had a year ago and hopefully not one I’ll have for long. But it helps to try to dress it nicely, although it takes a lot more effort when it’s not what you’re used to seeing.

    By the way, I really enjoy the pink scarf in your second photo. Great shot of color, and the way you have it tied looks just right.

  25. Oh, Ms. LPC. While the first pair was fine, the second pair looks really very good.

    As for me, one quirk is my absolute preference for skirts and dresses. I feel my gerth to great and height to little to be anywhere near elegant or chic in pants (baggy or otherwise) – especially when one factors in my short-waist situation. I feel I can make proportions and silhouettes more flattering by using the hemlines and sweep of skirts/dresses along with heel height.

    That and allowing a quarter of an inch of shirt cuff to peak out of the sleeve of a long-sleeved sweaters and blazers. Is it weird that I think that little sleeve trick makes me look taller?

    1. To find out about the cuff effect, I suggest posting a photo of yourself on the internet for hundreds of people to tell you.:). Joke. That’s a joke:).

  26. I LOVE your new pants. Sorry to say, the others feel ‘frumpy” to me. I totally understand your dilemma with your shoulders and the manly image. May I humbly suggest adding softness to your look: mixing in more feminine rather than ultra-tailored silhouettes. To my mind, the better fitting pants aside, the pink scarf is what makes your second outfit. Besides the too-large wide legged trouser in the first picture, perhaps something like a silk blouse (still tailored) under your sweater will avoid the 80’s female interpretation of the male uniform. It’s not your shoulders.

  27. First off, you look so elegant and modern in your newly-tailored pants! A wonderful change!

    My daughter is getting married and I have been dreading shopping for an evening gown. We were in the city and decided to drop into Lord & Taylor’s “just to look”. As my daughter tried on dresses for the rehearsal dinner, I walked around the evening wear department and began to feel my heart racing, had shortness of breath, and was close to tears. Thank goodness my daughter is in grad school for mental health counseling! She helped me to realize that I still saw myself as I was before I had surgery and lost 125 pounds. She started grabbing gowns and shoved me into a dressing room and made me put them on. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not look totally hideous and that with a long gown hiding my still oversized legs, and a wrap to hide the huge batwings and ugly elbows, I could pass for an average middle aged mother of the bride. When you used to be close to 300 pounds, that is saying a lot!

  28. my perfect pair of pants: thick and stretchy, but not cheap, fabric. tight fitting around waist, hips, upper thighs. Then starts to flare out gently for a more feminine silhouette than “leggings.” Basically expensive yoga style pants that, paired with the right top and accessories, look dressy enough for business.

    Max Studio pants were always my favorite – classy and expensive looking but extremely comfortable.

  29. L
    I admire your style however you wish to wear your trousers.

    You have such an elegant physique though, that I feel that slim and fitted within the constraints of your back problems.

    Good on you also for railing against leggings as pants.

    SSG xxx

  30. One of the benefits of being late to the party in terms of reading the blog is that I get to see all of the comments, they really can add a tone and tenor that enhances the whole process, you nurture such *amazing* comments. Today’s post demonstrates that so well, it is fascinating to see the responses.

    I continue to believe we were separated at birth, similar health issues impacted by the wearing of certain styles of pants and/or hose. I also think there is a very much a WASP/prep creed that says “thous shalt not do too much figure hugging apparel,” which prompted me to wear oversized proportions for decades. You look wonderful in both wide and slim, they are both flattering on you.

    Sending you a smile for the weekend,

  31. A photo of you posing in the first pair, now tailored, would be instructive. The second pair differ significantly from the first, in both cut and fabric. Were they tailored, too, or did they just fit more snugly from the get-go?

    Ready-to-wear isn’t always, for lots of women (and men as well, but that’s another story). Couple that with the effects of aging and changing bodies, and it verges on misnomer. Ready-to-wear for whom?

    Fine tailoring can do much to put right any number of wrongs concerning garments purchased straight off the rack. People hesitate to make the additional investment, but doing so can make all the difference in the way clothing hangs on the body.

    And how it makes you feel wearing it.

    1. OK I will try to get a photo of the gray ones tailored. The pants in the second photo were like that from the moment of purchase.

  32. You wear the second pair to work?

    I think they fit better and that the first ones do look too big, but most managers I deal with who’re pant wearers go a bit more trousery at the office. Then again it could be a California vs East Coast style difference.

    1. I do wear them to work, but I have to stress – my job is extraordinarily casual. These wouldn’t be appropriate in many places, even for business casual.

    2. I don’t know – office casual has become a runaway train. I think you look pretty damn good. I was tut-tutting several of the secretaries who were wearing leggings and oversized shirts on Friday (esp those over 55). Then one of the managers started wearing black leggings and tunic sweaters with belts and boots whenever she was not in court.She is in her late 40’s, doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her and looks gorgeous. But still, it just doesn’t sit right with me (she said with her cellulite…)

  33. Well, I can be certain that I have some quirks…though my readers kindly haven’t clued me in yet. It’s curious to me that I also have broad shoulders (we’re mesomorphs!), but as I’ve aged it is actually a feature of my build that I like. I wear a lot of skirts on campus with a low heel, but then that is a campus aesthetic. When you wrote about the sense of your size–I could relate. Recently in conversation with three young coeds, I suddenly felt huge. Objectively, I know I’m not. On second or third thought, I wondered how many of them were struggling with an eating disorder.

    The tailored pants will have a great fit.

  34. Try being body shaped like an apple but my legs are still smaller, but muscled. Have to get pants to fit my waist, but put up with wider legs, which for some reason is the way they are made! (Or I can quit being lazy and take them in some!)

  35. Hi Lisa
    I am delurking to comment on this post. I loved this post. I too have broad shoulders and have always tried to play them down. I am slowly changing this -one baby step at a time.
    I would love to see a post on shoes. I always have a hard time figuring out the right (comfortable) shoe to go with my outfits

  36. You in the second pair of pants wins. Sartorial quirks? I own scarves, pretty scarves, but no matter how I tie them I feel like Isbella after hers got caught up in the wheel.


  37. Oh don’t get me started on this one. I have been blessed by the wonderful thick, trunk-like legs of my grandmother and father (who, by the way, was a football player)and I can’t wear skinny jeans or boots, and I always feel the need to wear wide-bottom pants and thick-soled clogs to balance out the thick thighs. My mom says it makes me look bigger, but I feel so much balanced this way – kinda like you did with your shoulders?

  38. Erm, well yes, I had/have the opposite sartorial quirk. I buy my tops hugely large. Not a result of discomfort with my body, but perhaps the habit may have been formed as a younger woman who was often harassed by unwanted attention from men. I like being covered up and though my body often appears much larger than it really is, somehow I don’t mind.

  39. Own those shoulders! I’m widest at the top, moving down to narrow hips, and it’s a good look. Clothes hang well on a wide shouldered woman, we’re like clothes hangers. Seriously, which would you prefer, wide shoulders or hips?

    1. “Own those shoulders!”

      YES! And if you don’t want them, I DO.

      I would give ANYTHING for those shoulders of yours, and a hex on that college costumer for messing with your head.

      I’ve got these tiny narrow shoulders, and if I want something to hang in a sane manner, I’ve got to introduce shoulder pads which I loathe, they never work.



      Here’s someone who owns her shoulders, the very glamorous Charlene Wittstock now-Grimaldi. Yes, a former olympian swimmer. She’s not as pretty as you, not by a long shot, but without those shoulders, she’d instantly lose the “regal” and fade into “mousy.” For all the coverage she received prior to her marriage, I never once read a single comment about her shoulders being out of proportion. Example:

  40. Perhaps the biggest difference between the way Spanish women dress and the way American women dress is that Spanish women don’t do baggy (as a rule, though generalization is never ideal).

    I’ve got very powerful legs, with large calves, so super straight or skinny just doesn’t work for me — but I have taken my trousers and jeans in to be tailored in the waist, hips and thighs. It’s much more flattering, and still keeps the calves under wraps.

    The most universally appropriate skirt shape is a pencil skirt. I’ve got a black ponte one that I live in, with black tights, and zebra print loafers or low-heeled boots.

    Now that you’ve decided to walk the sartorial high-wire, why not give it a shot? It’ll work well with the top half of your uniform, too.

  41. Hello, my name is Anne and I wear baggy pants. (And I SO enjoyed this post). Your first photo looks very familiar to me — my scale is so off, it doesn’t even look to me like anything is wrong! I think this happens to us when we can’t find clothes that fit our proportions — I’m pretty straight up and down, so things that fit around my waist are often too big around the hips. (Plus I can’t stand the feeling of anything constricting my waist — recipe for baggy pants!) I’ve finally discovered the necessity of tailoring, but laziness sets in. And I think we get used to seeing ourselves in baggy things, so it seems normal.

  42. As I mentioned on another blog, I’ve never liked boot cut jeans/pants on myself. I tend to not like them on others either. It looks to me that they are trying to accomplish something with proportion–that is too obvious.

    If I have a sartorial quirk, it might be that I never wore low cut tops (even remotely low cut) until I was more than 50 years old. And then, I found that they are flattering on me-especially a low v neck or low cowl neck.

    Another quirk is that I have never paid close enough attention to my shoes and what they do for an outfit. I’ve tried to improve there also.

    LPC, your newly fitted pants are flattering. Congrats on figuring this out!

  43. When I look at you I think of you as very slim. I would never describe you as sturdy. Never. And your shoulders look in proportion, not wide.
    You look great in both pairs of pants, but the slimmer leg does look much better on you. I think you look great in whatever you wear.

  44. Hope your tailoring works out. If a tailor takes
    in pants at the side seams, the side pockets slide back too far; if he takes them in at the back center seam it can be, um, binding. Sometimes the fix works, sometimes you just get oddly skewed (but tighter) pants.

    Think you look like a rather slight woman, not at all sturdy, but also respect your right to call yourself whatever you wish.

  45. An eating disorder in the background changes everything. It takes hard work to build trust-in-self afterward. Glad for your epiphanies!

  46. “Do you have a sartorial quirk, with buried roots?”

    I got to gabbing so much, I forgot you even asked.


    Seemingly out of proportion long waist [“You have your mother’s long waist.”]; outrageously narrow shouders like my grandmother [“Your shoulders disappear just like those of your namesake.”]; genetically out of proportion short legs [“Your legs are short just like your father’s.”]; hearsay small waist [“You have a Scarlett O’Hara waist.”]; obviously out of proportion big round bottom, nicknamed by my brothers [one older, one younger] “FFB” [= Flo Fat Bu*t]

    No shoulders, no waist, colossal bottom, no legs, long torso, why even get out of bed in the morning?

    So, yes!

  47. Wow, I never realised that your definition of ‘sturdy’ was anything to do with shoulder width – I thought it was purely a matter of attitude. I had always thought you to be quite slight and athletic, certainly nothing like what I would call ‘sturdy’. The more you know.

  48. Those slimmer-fit pants look terrific on you. Brava for taking the feedback and turning it into a positive that’s consistent with your authentic style.

    My readers & loved ones have been too kind to clue me into my sartorial ruts; it’s my hair that’s giving me style fits at the moment. Stuck in a too blonde moment – now there’s a statement with many possibilities, isn’t it?

  49. I forgot to answer the question about buried roots . . . style-wise I’m ever on the quest to balance out what my OBGYN once termed “very ample hips” with my narrow shoulders & weensy bust. Growing up where I did, in a culture where plastic surgery is the norm (if not within my own sub-set of same), I’m not sure any of us escapes unscathed, though my family did a good job of emphasizing the quality of character stuff over the superficial.

    I will say that I’m happy to be raising my own boy where the cultural emphasis isn’t so heavy on appearances, as much as I do miss home.

  50. Love that second shot. You’ve convinced me to go to the tailor. My pants look frumpy also. Never knew that until I looked at myself in some photos and was shocked at how baggy my pants were. “Get thee to a tailor,” I said to myself.

    But the other great thing about the second photo is that shot of color in the scarf. Absoloutely great looking. Chic, au currant, and yourthful. I think you can wear so much more color than you’ve allowed yourself. You look great in that outfit.

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