April 11th, 2007


It's Official: Levi's are Dead to Me

After years of sitting around hoping, I finally got desperate enough sitting around watching my pants wear out to call Levi's back, to find out the state of affairs around the Original Spin program.

You see, for a few years, it was possible to go into a Levi's store, try on some prototype pants to establish the fit one wanted, then pick a fabric and style off the wall, write down an inseam and waist size, and wait a few weeks for a pair of pants custom-made to one's specifications to be delivered to the store. Just like ordering a new car from the factory, really.

In high school, by digging through rack after rack of pants, I could eventually find something in my size. Well, by "in my size" I mean something narrow enough to not actually fall off my hips, and just barely long enough to not make me look ridiculous. It wasn't until I started ordering jeans through Original Spin that I realized that I don't have a 30" waist. I have a 27 to 28" waist, but I'd simply never in my life seen a pair of pants smaller than 30 that had the required 36" inseam.

My best Spin jeans (and cargo pants and cords and twill) are mostly R284 with a 40" inseam. The extra four inches is enough to allow me to roll a 2" cuff into the pants and still have them long enough to break across my shoe. You see, a cuff makes a leg look shorter. Naturally, if one is tall enough to actually want or need a cuff, the pants are too short to make one with out turning them into capri pants. The "R284" means "Relaxed fit, 28 waist, +4 at hips." I also have a couple pair that are R275: one inch narrower in the waist, but the same size at the hips.

Four years ago, without warning, Original Spin disappeared. Turns out they'd been making the jeans at a factory in Texas, and they'd closed the factory.

[ring] [ring]

"Hello, Levi Strauss & co."

"Where am I going to get pants now?"

"Your Levi's store can special order anything we manufacture. What size do you wear?"

"28 x 40."

[pause] "I'm very sorry sir. Hopefully we'll have the Original Spin program back soon."

So I waited, and bit by bit, my pants have been wearing out. So a few weeks ago, on the way back from Portland, I stopped at the Auburn Supermall, and the Levi's Outlet store there. This used to be my main source for jeans. They usually had at least a few pairs of something in 30x36.

Not this time. Nor did any other store in the mall. Now, I know that the Gap makes some pants in 28x36, because I've bought a couple of pair through eBay. They're the right size, technically, although they don't fit nearly as well as my R284's. They don't have the 'extra wide' (read, not disconcertingly narrow-looking) leg of my Levi's, but at least they're long enough, and don't have to be cinched up at the waist like some kind of hillbilly pants.

But they don't actually carry that length in the store. At all. For anybody. Of any waist size. No 36" inseam pants. Period.

So today I called Levi's, to bug them about the Spin program. While looking up their number, I also indulged my curiosity and poked around levisstore.com. The site doesn't allow me to actually shop by size. I have to pick a specific type of pant, then see what sizes I can get. That was getting me nowhere, so when I phoned them, I also mentioned that I couldn't even find poorly-fitting Levi's any more.

The response was quite illuminating. No wonder the outlet store didn't have anything in my old not-really-my-size. Levi's no longer makes anything longer than 32" inseams for a 30" waist, or conversely, the smallest size with a 36" inseam has a waist measurement of 34".

Oh, poor ignorant me, to think that the ballooning waistlines of chubby Americans wasn't directly detrimental to me personally.

Apparently I'm going to have to start taking trips to Norway to buy pants, or start wearing shorts in November.

* * *

Yes, I know there are tailors who make clothes. But I'm not looking for fancy dress pants; I'm looking for casual wear, like jeans. Casual pants, with their coin pockets and rivets and contrasting stitching and thicker, stiffer fabric, are quite a bit more difficult to sew than dress pants. I'm not (yet (quite)) ready to spend hundreds of dollars for a single pair of custom-tailored jeans.
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