It is an iconic look. It can be glammed up with gorgeous shoes and accessories. Or the worn-out, aged version is just the right fashion statement when you’re painting your bathroom or weeding your garden.

It is, of course, jeans and a T-shirt, the iconic uniform of casual cool for generations.

Just before complete despair set in on a recent jeans-hunting expedition.

But here’s the worst-kept secret of all time: shopping for jeans that fit is a waking nightmare for most women. One estimate said women average trying on 13 pairs of jeans before they find ones that fit. There are lots of blog posts like this one and this one devoted to advice about fit, and plenty of others filled with photo evidence of the frustration of the search.

Even with all that advice and sympathy, I would rather get my teeth cleaned or vacuum my baseboards than go shopping for jeans. My body is evolving at midlife into a slightly-taller version of my immigrant grandmother’s. I am an anti-mannequin, with real-life curves, wiggles, lumps, and stretch marks in all the “wrong” places. Normally, I try to celebrate this imperfect body, which has given birth to three children, has been through a few surgical repairs of its joints, battles serious chronic illness, and has carried me through decades of life.

Normally. But shopping for jeans is not a normal experience, amirite?

Whenever it’s time for jeans shopping, I pre-game a day or two ahead. I remind myself that I am not my jeans size, and review everything I learned from years of watching Clinton and Stacey on TLC’s What Not To Wear. I review my wardrobe, and give myself inspiring pep talks worthy of an ESPN highlights reel. I also recognize that whatever jeans I purchase will require an additional post-purchase expenditure as I almost always need to bring the jeans to the tailor to have the waistline taken in a couple of inches. Having a pear-shaped figure means that if the fit is right in the hips, the waist of most every pair of jeans will be far too large. (See Clinton and Stacey? I was listening!)

The morning of The Big Hunt, I load up on caffeine because I need the energy even though I know it’ll bloat my belly, and begin foraging through the racks at the store, throwing every possible pair of size 16 jeans with a hit of spandex in them over my arm: skinny jeans, boot-cut jeans, bell-bottom jeans, boyfriend jeans, mom jeans, and even a pair of non-spandex-enriched grandma jeans. Weighed down like a pack mule carrying a caravan of denim, I take a deep breath to steel myself, then head into the dressing room.

As I peel off my own clothes, I add my voice to the ongoing litany arising from dressing rooms across this great land: “Could this lighting be any more unflattering? And when did they swap normal mirrors for the funhouse ones they use at carnivals?” And then I begin.

The first pair I try on has poorly-placed, teensy pockets that accentuate the size of my bucket seat. The second pair makes it look as though I painted them on my body, except for the waist, which is wide open because I can’t zip them. The third pair makes it look as though I am wearing a super-sized Depends underneath them. The fourth pair looks okay when I’m standing with my gut sucked in, but when I sit on the tiny little bench in the dressing room, I realize my lips are turning blue from a lack of oxygen because the waistband is cutting off my circulation. The blue of my lips may match the dark wash of the jeans, but isn’t a practical look for my lifestyle. I’ve discovered over my 58 years I’m pretty fond of being able to breathe. Two more failed pairs later, and I’m back in my own clothes, browsing the racks for possibilities I may have missed during my first pass through the department. As I head back into the dressing room with another round of contenders, existential despair wells up within me: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?  

Pairs 7-12 are no better. By this point, even if Levi Strauss himself came into the dressing room with a pair he’d custom-made just for me, I would probably hate them. But Mr. Strauss is nowhere to be found. I am sweaty and disheveled. And so very done.  “Dear Lord, I am sad I just wasted an hour and fifteen minutes of this one precious life you gave me,” I pray as I gently drape six more pairs of jeans over the return rack at the door of the dressing rooms.

The thought flickers through my mind: “That one article says it takes thirteen try-ons to find the perfect fit. Maybe I should persevere. I’ve only tried on an even dozen…”

No. No, no, no. The coffee has worked its way through me. I need to find a bathroom, then regain some perspective. I leave the store empty-handed, then order a pair of stretchy black yoga pants online when I get home. Mission accomplished.

Sort of.