The Limits of Standardization

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Or: When Fashion Thwarts Delegation

Just because I mention wanting to improve how efficiently I do something doesn't mean I haven't already tackled the problem in some way, the case in point being laundry. One way I have streamlined that process is by buying about a dozen pairs of the same kind of socks every few months. This greatly cuts down on the time I spend trying to match pairs -- although it doesn't eliminate it since I don't insist on my wife doing this, nor will I do this with the kids. (Interestingly, the variety of the kids' socks, coupled with their small size, means they practically sort themselves, if I save them for last.)

I bring up the sock-sorting trick because it has paid off in other ways, one of them being by saving shopping time. Recall that I buy a whole new set of socks every few months. This practice grew out of my initial decision to standardize on one kind of sock for most of the time. Eventually, some of those socks started wearing out. My initial impulse was to buy a few replacement pairs, but a few things occurred to me: (1) I might not be able to buy the same kind of socks again; (2) Even if I could, this would make me have to start sorting again, since the new pairs would be darker than the old; and (3) Perhaps all of the socks, having been bought at the same time, were about to wear out all at once. (I was right about the last two.) So I just bought the same number of identical socks and replaced all of them. I realized then that I probably also wasted less time shopping for socks as a result, too. So I now do the same thing for tee shirts and my casual khaki pants.

I buy the pants mostly at Old Navy, and this has been pretty straightforward for the past few years. I find a few pairs in my size, which has been constant for decades, try them on, buy them, and go. In fact,  a year or two ago, I realized that I could just delegate the purchase because, for the most part, men's sizes are pretty standard. (For a while, that went out the window during a period when baggy clothing was a fad. For example, I once found myself swimming in a "medium" shirt I'd received as a gift. I also vaguely recall having to buy "slim fit" khakis back then.) So, when my birthday or Christmas rolled around and someone needed an idea for an inexpensive gift, I could just suggest some Old Navy khakis and have them on hand and ready the next time a pair of pants got damaged or turned into highwaters after enough drying cycles.

Well, that fell through this Christmas. I needed to replace my pants wholesale, so when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I asked her for some Old Navy khakis. Once I tried on a pair of these, I noticed that it felt odd, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Over the course of wearing them for a day, I noticed, among other things, that my phone didn't quite fit in the pocket, and that the pants seemed too snug. I wondered if I'd put on weight, but I hadn't and also remembered that my older pants, which had presumably shrunk in more than one direction, felt fine. So I looked at the label, which read something like, "Classic Khakis, Straight Fit". "Oh, great. Demon spawn of skinny jeans and khakis," I thought. My wife had not ordered these, so I returned them, but ran into trouble again at the store. What was labeled as the regular cut -- like the old pair I was wearing -- was also more snug than I cared for -- but some loose-fit (or whatever they were labeled) pants on clearance fit like the pair I was wearing. So I bought a few of those. And then kept them even after I discovered about six more pairs of normal khakis squirreled away in my armoire at home: I need to ride out this fetish for uncomfortable, form-fitting clothing. (In any event, this is exactly the kind of fad that strikes me as something that men past a certain age should think twice about following. Or, to re-phrase that: I am not a teen-aged girl.)

So the idea of having standard items on hand for easy maintenance and replacement has its limits. For casual pants, the whims of popular culture set some of those. There's no dodging the fitting room, at least for the next couple of years.

-- CAV

No comments: