Several years ago, on my way home from a ski trip to Utah, I happened upon an amazing pair of bell-bottomed pants in a tiny boutique at the Salt Lake City airport. I don’t recall the maker now, but the pants were memorable for their exaggerated features: pant legs practically as wide as skirt hems, a super-wide waistband, and pockets of all different sizes sewn, cargo-style, all askew over the front and back of the pant legs, each one with a working brass snap. How could I resist a 1970s-inspired garment like that? I took them home, wore them exactly one time, and threw them in the wash. Nothing about the care-tag said they were fragile, and the black cotton fabric seemed sturdy enough, but still I used a gentle setting for both washer and dryer.
My opinion about clothing and antiques has long been that I’d rather not have them if they can’t hold up under everyday wear and tear, including washing and drying them by conventional means. I like to use my things, not just look at them. Nevertheless, I was aghast when my new pants emerged from their laundering in shreds. Literally. After all that money I'd spent to buy them!
I looked up the manufacturer on the internet, but the other pieces in their collection were made of the same fabric. I was hesitant to take a chance on another pair and the company no longer carried that particular style. So I took the shredded slacks to my tailor and asked her to use the tatters to make a pattern from which a new pair of bellbottoms, made from fabric of my own selection, could be sewn. She agreed to make the pants but balked at the numerous pockets. The next day I brought her some hardy denim. Yards and yards of it to fit my 190-pound frame. And brass snaps for the waist and for those few pockets she did agree to include. I sported the resulting jeans happily that whole summer, delighted to be wearing a reasonable facsimile of the trousers I’d fallen in love with at the Utah airport, although by now they’d cost me a small fortune.
Fast forward to last year. Suddenly I was on a diet, working out and losing weight. I took my beloved bellbottoms back to the tailor and asked her to take them in so I could keep wearing them as I slimmed down. Then I lost more weight. By the time I had reached my goal of 120 pounds, my dear tailor had to cut out a good portion of the denim fabric in order to take them in enough to fit my new, trim figure. When she was finished, I didn’t think the pants hung correctly anymore. They had been altered one too many times. So I stopped wearing them. They’ve dangled lifelessly in my closet ever since.
Now fast forward to yesterday. It was cold and rainy, with wet snow predicted during my two-hour commute by car and subway train to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. I didn’t want to dress up. I wanted something sturdy, something warm and comfortable. There hung my "investment" bellbottoms, staring back at me from the closet. What the heck? So what if they didn’t hang perfectly in the rear? I put them on. The fabric draped a bit more gracefully than I’d remembered. I paired them with a simple black, ribbed-knit, long-sleeved T-shirt and a cropped jacket by Circle-T, made of thick wool pile decorated in a Southwestern theme with blanket stitching and silver conch and braided leather fobs detailing the elongated collar, a gift from a cherished friend, Linda Adams, of Reno, Nevada, who is now deceased.
I pulled on a pair of trusty, almond-toed booties by Cami for Spiegel.com and added a choker necklace of silver chains that I’ve owned since the 1970s, along with some vintage blue and silver metal earrings that are at least that old, and a silver ring with a lapis stone that was a gift several years ago from my best friend's mother, Joyce, in Spokane, Washington. I finished my look with a denim-hued Dea Dread for my hair, custom made for me by Thea Osato of Baltimore (www.DeaDreads.etsy.com). Perhaps the completed outfit was not one of my most inspired, but it was certainly serviceable for the inclement weather ahead. Off I went into the day.
Boy was I surprised when the compliments began to flow! The first was from a couple on the elevator at the Library of Congress: "Love those pants!" the man enthused. "You don’t see such wide bellbottoms anymore", added the woman. I told them about my vintage fashion blog. "Actually, I love your whole outfit!" said the man. "And you can say that 'random strangers on the elevator' told you that." I was thrilled. We were still talking as the elevator door opened and they turned to depart. "Very Farrah Fawcet" was their parting comment. Indeed.
Next was a compliment at the supermarket on the way home from work. "I just love those pants!" the lady exclaimed as she checked my groceries. And last night, at a board meeting for Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., where I serve as vice president of the tiny non-profit Friends group for the habitat, one of our guests gushed about how attractive my pants were.
Perhaps I should reconsider how well these pants hang, after all. I got my money’s worth in compliments alone yesterday!