1 Concerning Inflation, Pants, and Getting Old | The Billfold

Concerning Inflation, Pants, and Getting Old


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.


48 Comments / Post A Comment

Housing costs as inscrutable magical realism… yes. God yes.

Excuse me, I have to go back to rocking in the corner and whimpering in preparation for closing on our first house next week.

Allison (#4,509)

@emmycantbemeeko the terror of closing is nothing compared to the actual terror of home ownership. but that fades right up until something breaks spectacularly! then I call my parents freaking out until I’m resigned to spending a lot of money.


@Allison We are! Or rather, the seller is getting one and passing it along to us, but we will maintain it. I lived in a house owned by family for a while in college and thankfully had a warranty. So relieved it existed when I had to call a plumber on a Saturday.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I still remember when paying more than $100 for a pair of shoes was seen as OUTRAGEOUS.

@HelloTheFuture Right? Every now and then, I have this moment of grownup lucidity where I say, “I should stop buying poorly made $25 shoes and spring for some $100 shoes that will last.” And then they don’t last any longer and I wonder why I ever deviated from my tried and true formula.

@Josh Michtom@facebook : I’m assuming you’re buying men’s dress shoes, in which case I’m afraid to say — it’s because you didn’t pay enough. You went up in price, but not enough to get to the tier of quality that you expected the price hike to bump you into. (With men’s dress shoes, think of quality as a function of price as a discrete function rather than a continuous one.)

The lowest price point that I can think of, where the shoes can be expected to last you well into the double digits of years, would be a nice pair of Allen Edmonds oxfords, which will run you about $350 or so. UGH I KNOW, BUT IT GETS WORSE.

To really bump up into the “these shoes will last me for the rest of my natural life” category, you’re going to get into the $500+ range for a pair of Aldens or $600-some for a pair of Crockett and Jones shoes, both of which in ten or twenty years will look as good, if not better, than they do today.

Yeah, that’s real money. God, is it real money. But as my grandmother said, “you have to be rich to buy cheap shoes” and, assuming you’re buying good ol’ solid brands rather than some flashy fashion brands, these suckers will distribute that cost over time like nobody’s business.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Tell me more! Are there ANY women’s shoes that I can wear for the rest of my life?

@cryptolect : Oh man, I’m afraid I don’t know a thing about women’s shoes. I’d guess that it’s a similar deal, but I can’t off the top of my head name a women’s equivalent to Allen Edmonds or that sort of price/quality point. They must be out there, though.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Florsheim’s, dude. Seriously. (Uh…I have a strange and abiding interest in menswear, which I can’t really explain).

@Gef the Talking Mongoose

I always read advice like this and have a burst of “I should buy high-quality things that will rarely if ever wear out!” enthusiasm.

And then I remember that I’m an absent-minded klutz with dogs, and that the majority of my purchases are not in replacement of a thing that wore out, but a thing that I lost, damaged beyond salvation, or that the dogs chewed to shreds, and I keep on buying cheap stuff. =(

@Gef the Talking Mongoose But I also do things with dress shoes like ride my bicycle and go for long, impromptu walks over potentially rugged terrain. That is why I can’t have nice things. I will be too afraid of wrecking them to enjoy my life.

@cryptolect YES. It can happen! The price class for such lifelong women’s shoes is also eye watering, but in the range of what Gef the Talking Mongoose mentions for men’s.

I have one pair of shoes from 1999 (yes, 1999) that I still wear. They’re a bit rougher these days (I wore them in rain storms), but various shoe guys over the years have resoled and fixed things. I have a pair of boots I spent $800. Yes, $800. I wanted them forever, and let’s just say this was retail therapy on the highest order. (I was responsible and actually had the money, because I used the proceeds from a particularly awful freelance job.) But, unlike other things, I’ve never regretted buying them, as I wore them constantly for years and they always work. I do the minor maintenance– taps, new soles, etc.– and I figure they should last many more years.

The boots are from Paul Smith, which I admit is a bit over the top. I also have a pair of heels (bought on very deep discount sale), and they are also well-made, but they’re less practical, given that they are metallic silver and gray suede, so I can’t vouch for lifelong wear on those.

Fluevog and (some) Frye are reliable if you don’t need overly staid corporate wear.

I weirdly love Lands’ End (great swimsuits! nice sheets!), but not the shoes. I have had so much bad luck with Lands’ End’s women’s shoes. Inconsistent sizing! Crummy quality! Extremely uncomfortable shoes that should be comfortable! No more Lands’ End shoes for me, even when they are marked down to $20 from $100.

sea ermine (#122)

@cryptolect I hate to say it but I have spent many many years searching (I love shoes especially one’s that last) and there isn’t a true women’s equivalent of Allen Edmonds or similar shoes.

Typically when you get into women’s shoes in that price range it’s stuff like, say, Louboutins, which are built for style not for comfort and certainly not for how long they last. Often they are glued together or poorly constructed and really not worth the money you pay for them.

The closest you can typically get are shoes from a place like Camper (usually run $100-150) and, assuming you get taps put on them and take care of them (polishing, etc) will last a decent amount of time. I am extremely hard on my shoes and Camper shoes last about 6 years for me. They would probably last longer for people who don’t wreck their shoes as quickly as I do. I’m pretty devoted to camper but other similar quality brands are Born, Bass, Ferragamo (I haven’t tried these and am skeptical, but I’ve heard great things), Carmina, etc.

I would like to point out that Crockett and Jones (mentioned by Gef) does have a women’s line I haven’t tried them personally but I would test them out before you buy, lots of high quality men’s brands will make their women’s shoes to a lower standard. Not saying that’s what’s happening here but past experience leads me to go with always trying everything on and examining the shoe regardless of what the brand’s reputation is.

If you’re feet are larger and you are open to a more masculine style you can get away with buying Allen Edmonds and such and just wearing them in your size. I’m a women’s size 10 and I’m seriously considering saving up to get some Allen Edmons in an 8.5.

The other option you have is to get shoes custom made. If you go to a good place this will get you shoes that last forever but it’s way more expensive than buying retail.

sea ermine (#122)

@angry little raincloud Frye is great but I want to throw in a warning because I have a lot of friends who’ve been burned by them: If you have wide feet they may never stretch out enough. I just mention that because the store pushes the whole ‘leather stretches’ thing which is true but their shoes are narrow to start with and I know a lot of people who have been stuck with beautiful but unwearable shoes.

@Josh Michtom@facebook : Quality shoes will take a good polish and become nigh-indestructable. Many shoe manufacturers make dress shoes with Dainite (rubber) soles or a Goodyear welt for waterproofing and general sturdiness, too. If you’re really really going to do some damage, get a thicker pebble-grain leather, which is a bit casual but still looks smart.

It is also totally OK to wear dress boots. After all, if James Rorimer can wear his old WWII combat boots with a suit every day at the Met, you can wear a nice pair of Loakes, or Alden’s Indy boots.

@sea ermine Yes, Campers!
I still have two pairs of Campers from 1998. I lived in Germany in the late 1990s and apparently bought lots of shoes that lasted a really long time. Although I have one pair (heels) from 2012 or so that I never wear as they revealed themselves to be profoundly uncomfortable, of course only after I wore them enough to make them not returnable. This is the problem with shoes!

sea ermine (#122)

@angry little raincloud I hate it when that happens! I’ve started spending evenings wearing new shoes around my home (for like, a few hours) even though I never wear shoes inside just because it gives me a chance to see how comfortable things feel after an afternoon of doing chore and puttering around the house. And that way if I need to return them it’s only been a few days and they haven’t been worn outside! It’s not a perfect trick but it has helped. I think 90% of my shoes are campers, I love them so.

@Gef the Talking Mongoose I actually recently splurged for some Clarks that are sort of dress boots (they’re like high-top casual leather shoes). So far so good – they’ve taken a winter of abuse gracefully. The preceding splurge in a similar vein (like, five years ago) was for Cole Haans, which disappointed mightily.

@Josh Michtom@facebook : I’ve heard good things about Clarks, but never worn them. Their chukka boots / desert boots are an old-school classic. On the other hand, I’ve had nothing but crappy experiences with Cole Haans, so there’s that.

gyip (#4,192)

Hm. My experience is that lots of online American retailers have really good return policies, and in many cases, even offer free returns, especially if you just want to exchange them.

For example, Land’s End’s return costs $7, but they will ship your replacement pants FREE. And they have lots of in-seams, and lots of sales all the time. They even ship free if you order more than $50.

From what I know, their workplace standards are pretty good value and quality for the money.


But $80 for a pair of wool pants? Yeah, that’s pretty standard.

Check out this post by Put This On for a round-up of affordable(-ish) men’s pants:


Allison (#4,509)

@gyip wool pants does sound pretty fancy and probably long lasting?

gyip (#4,192)

@Allison Yeah, basically. Wool is sort of magic, although cotton does have its own lovely properties. Wool just costs more than cotton generally.

Also, because these pants are wool, they have to be lined for comfort, which adds cost to production.

I mean, I’m sure there are many reasons (and non-reasons, like BRANDING) for the extra cost, but these are some basic but reasonable conclusions.

@gyip It’s not the returning that’s the issue. It’s that I need to try the pants on and touch them and smell them before I buy them, and the process of ordering, returning, and repeating makes me shake my fist and say, “In my day…”

gyip (#4,192)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Yeah … true. I dunno, I really enjoy shopping online, so I’m ok with returns. I do have the luxury of not caring that the money isn’t instantly back in my pocket, and I recognize not everyone likes that.

The online returning is a little extra hassle, but once I get the styles/sizes down, it’s pretty good. A retailer like Land’s End tends to sell certain standard styles over and over through several seasons, so it’s mostly reliable (until they change it). When I think I might like a standard like work pants, I order several styles to try. (Does Land’s End have stores?? I don’t know, I live in Canada.)

I suggest it only because I felt like you were running out of pant options :P

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@gyip Yep, seconding the Land’s End rec!

And $80 for wool pants is definitely standard. Josh, these are pants that you’re going to wear in your office (or courthouse?), not while you’re out rabble-rousing. They’ll last a while.

@gyip : When Brooks Brothers has a sale, you should be able to pick up a pair of their wool trousers for $80 or so. They’re a great staple, and I believe tailoring is free in-store (even if ordered online) if they’re unhemmed, so Josh could buy an unhemmed pair and have the length made exactly right.

Allison (#4,509)

I’m stuck on candy prices from when I was nine. It’s outrageous that a pack of gum is more than $.75 I was able to cope with $1, but more than a dollar is just obscene.

My father apparently feels the same way, because we needed change for a parking meter, he bought a pack of gum and gave her two dollars, asking for a dollar in quarters back. I had to explain that the gum was $1.30 or something like that for Trident boring Trident, not even the new fancy layers.

gyip (#4,192)

@Allison Haha, I can’t wait for the future when I tell someone to buy me a pack of gum for $2 and they look at me and go, “Grandma, gum costs $20!!”

@Allison Oh, yes, candy prices! I occasionally want to buy a Snickers bar. And then I see a $1.50 or $2 price tag and resign myself to no Snickers Satisfaction because I just can’t. What the hell? It’s a Snickers bar, not artisanal Brooklyn-made craft chocolate for chissakes. (That shit’s like $8, though.)

I really look forward to being a cranky old person.

ATF (#4,229)

@Allison Ooooooooooooooh. I want to play this game!! When I was a kid ™ back in the 80s, a candy bar cost $0.45. My mother would give us a dollar to spend at the local convince store and I remember the glory of my dollar getting me a candy bar, can of soda, and a piece of penny candy (which was $0.05 but still referred to as such and a fine price to pay for a warhead or something).

Allison (#4,509)

@angry little raincloud RIGHT? $1.19 for a Kit Kat? and then if I do give in and buy it, I later discover I accidentally bought a dark chocolate one. (Dark chocolate has it’s place and it’s not on a kit kat).

@ATF a fist full of quarters should get me GREAT candy selections, I’m so bitter.

@Allison There is a green tea Japanese Kit Kat. I don’t know how it tastes, though, because when I was in the store it was $3 and I refused to pay that much for a Kit Kat. Even an imported one.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Uh, yes. I’m constantly amazed at how expensive the Gap has gotten, to say nothing of Banana Republic and J. Crew! I’m a TJMaxx/Ross girl right now because of *circumstances,* but it still seems insane that I’d have to pay $60 for a summer sweater at the Gap! I remember when you could buy one for like, $25.

@andnowlights I know! But this is one reason i like online shopping. I can check the prices at a bunch of different places and then I know what the going rate for jeans or whatever is. But I go by sale prices. It’s actually ridiculous how they price things at full price. Even if I can afford it, they just mark them at that price initially so they can still make a profit when it goes on “sale”.

We constantly made fun of my dad in our teen years because he was locked into the pants cost $25 rule. My first Christmas present to him when I had my first job out of college was a nice pair of (gasp!) dark denim jeans which I never told him the price but he did love them and we didn’t have to see him in stone wash Walmart Wranglers as much any more.

My husband has another problem I see in men frequently where his mom just bought him piles and piles of clothes so he has no idea what anything costs, so now that his Brooks Brothers pants his mom bought him in college are finally starting to get worn out, he’s shocked that they are $100+, and even more shocked that he likes the $40 khakis from Gap or J Crew Factory that I ordered as replacements just as much. (The upside of this is I have the rare partner that actually accepts and does not judge me when I feel that $150 is a fair and low price for a nice new dress.)

erinep (#4,236)

@JNC Musings Factory I have the opposite problem – boyfriend goes into the Gap, picks out what he likes (he’s been wearing the same jeans and khakis for years), and goes to the register. I’ve finally got him watching for sales or emails because it is so easy to save 30%. I’ve noticed that the clearance rack in men’s sections are always much smaller, presumably because they just go get what they want, or even as my bf sometimes does, just picks out what the mannequin has on?

drydenlane (#5,919)

I’m not a man nor do I shop for man’s pants, but you should be able to find a broader range of inseams shopping online without having to shop at Joseph A. Bank. Personally I wouldn’t shop there. Maybe try J Crew’s online outlet/factory store.

Anyway, men have it good because your sizing is true. I know my measurements, but clothing STILL varies for women because of vanity sizing, variations, etc. Shopping for pants is my personal hell.

annev17 (#4,822)

@drydenlane Isn’t it?? I have given up on understanding women’s sizes. Some of the stores I frequent vary SO much, like I’ll be an L at Mango yet somehow an XS at the GAP. Even within one store sizing is no longer consistent – I have stuff from H&M in sizes S to L.

honey cowl (#1,510)

Jesus, as a 5’11″ lady, there are no pants in any retail store that fit me. A 36″ inseam on a woman is apparently an aberration. HOW DO WBNA PLAYERS SURVIVE?! Or Misti May and Kerri Walsh, where do they buy their pants?!??!?! I hate pants. This is why I have one total pair of pants that does not even fit.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@honey cowl I hate to get all misandrist (haha yeah no I don’t) but dudes have it so much easier on this front. Burn them all.

@honey cowl Yeah, I am just 1-2 sizes larger than what most womens stores carry and it drives me crazy that I can’t shop in ‘real life’. The problem isn’t just that they don’t carry plus sizes usually, its that they are completely different styles and cuts. I could probably know if I liked something and order it in the next size up if that were possible, but instead I just shop online A LOT. And then send about 60% of it back.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Punk-assBookJockey I feel your pain! I haven’t shopped in the plus-size section but from what I hear it’s rough. Why must we clothe ourselves?? Can’t we just not?

chic noir (#713)

@honey cowl if you ever take a trip to Amsterdam, you will be in heaven. Most of the women’s inseams were 36 inches.

Yes. Disclaimer: Men have it easy because our sizes, as mentioned, are cardinal rather than ordinal. What’s fucked up is that among the many ways we have it easier (more pay for the same work, for example), straightforward clothes sizing seems laughably unimportant, but actually, it makes a huge difference.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Josh Michtom@facebook I would like to co-sign all of this. Please excuse my general ranting on this front; I have one pair of pants to show for it. Just the one.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

And on the eight day, He gave us Uniqlo. $40-60 pants. 34″ inseams with enough fabric to become an uncuffed 36″ (Sidenote: CUFFS ARE NOT COOL JOSH) Clothing folded by color. It’s going to the apple store, but for clothes:


honey cowl (#1,510)

@DebtOrAlive But there are only 2 stores in this entire country! HELP

Amanda M. (#7,040)

I am a Tall Lady and get my work pants from Gap. They are not particularly nice, but they have held up for 2+ years and are offered in 36″ inseams.

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