By reader request, here’s a topic that’s plagued me for years: jeans. I’m with you, Tam–I miss jeans! This ubiquitous item of Western apparel went from super-comfy to super-excruciating as my pelvic pain grew. Anyone with chronic pain anywhere between the belly button and the kneecap likely feels my riveted-denim pain. Traveling just makes it worse–I still haven’t figured out how to travel without at least one pair of jeans. How can I skip packing a pair of pants that works for hiking, museum-crawling, and dinner out?
The answer: careful shopping and selection based on my body’s needs. Here’s what works for me–while it might work for you, be sure to think about what your own anatomy needs most when you’re faced with racks of denim at the department store.
I look for jeans with a wide waistband–at least 2 inches (~5 cm). Most standard Levi’s and Gap jeans have narrow waistbands that dig into my belly when I sit down. That can be uncomfortable even for a healthy person, and for me it’s a deal-breaker. Wider waistbands don’t dig so much, especially if they’ve got more than one button or hook at the front. My favorite pair of jeans has a 2-inch waist with two wide hook-and-eye closures above the zipper.
Thanks be to the Fashion Gods that the fad for low-rise jeans for women has started to pass! The “rise” is the distance from the top of the waistband to the bottom of the crotch of the jean. A medium rise works best for me–those extra couple of inches keep those hard seams in the crotch of the jeans from digging into my flesh and making my interstitial cystitis symptoms worse. Ladies with IC–always pick pants with enough rise for comfort. Be sure to sit down whenever you’re trying on jeans, because sitting tests the true length of the rise. Nothing should dig in when you’re seated.
Whenever I can, I get “loose fit” or “relaxed fit” jeans. Anything that provides a little bit of extra space through my hips helps keep the ache at bay.
I sometimes buy jeans that are a size bigger than I’d get in softer pants. A wide, soft belt holds up jeans that are just a hair loose and is much more comfortable than heavy denim squeezing into my belly.
Not my weight, the fabric’s weight. Different jeans manufacturers use vastly different weights of denim. For me, the lighter weight the cloth, the more comfortable the jean. Yes, that means that my jeans won’t hold up as well for serious backpacking or construction jobs. But what with the chronic pain and all, I don’t do much (any) serious backpacking or construction.
To get a feel for the different weights of denim, pick up a couple of pairs of jeans in different brands and hold them, without hangers, in each hand. One will probably be heavier than the other. To find lighter weight jeans, skip the camping and outdoor stores. Also, pass right on by the Levi’s–they’re notoriously heavy. Fashionable boutiques and upscale designers in department stores are most likely to have lightweight jeans.
Lots of doubled seams and plenty of rivets define the look of a classic work jean. They also dig into tender flesh from waist to thigh, making the jeans unwearable for many chronic pain patients. Levi’s, Gap jeans, LL Bean jeans, and other brands that specialize in sturdy jeans make for long wear by healthy people just don’t work for me.
Instead, I look for jeans that are constructed and sewn more like slacks. Single seams, few (if any) rivets, no hard ridges where multiple seams come together. Softness and give are key. Again, I’m not going to wear these jeans to build skyscrapers or climb Mt. Everest. They don’t need to be tougher than nails. They need to not feel like nails driving into my belly.
I admit it–I’m vain about my clothes. I just can’t bear to wear granny-jeans with elastic waistbands–and besides, those “sturdy” elastic waistbands hurt! To my happy surprise, I’ve found that a couple of fashionable styles of jean fit my needs pretty well. Because I need a looser fit in the waist and can tolerate a closer fit in the thigh, I can wear “skinny jeans” that fit snugly in the leg and butt, but actually gap a little bit in the (wide-banded) waist.
Style choice will vary for everyone! I shopped at a number of stores before I figured out what styles worked best for me. It might be worth blowing a good pain day at the local mall, trying on all sorts of different styles until you find what feels best to you.
My Favorite Pair
While I can’t wear jeans all day every day comfortably, I do have one pair that comes with me on travel and gets worn when yoga pants just won’t quite do the job. They’re the house brand from the White House | Black Market chain boutique, standard denim-blue, lightweight softened denim, 2-inch waist, medium rise, boot cut.
Come to think of it, I should see about buying another couple of pairs in this style…