The Search for Pants: A Modern Day Quest

As a 32-year-old man, I’ve come to learn that finding good pants never gets any easier. It is by nature a process designed to produce incredible moments of frustration.

Awhile back, in my essay, A Quick Note on the Subject of Pants, I started to approach the subject in a slow and thoughtful way. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say, but I knew there was something more to explore, a deeper meaning perhaps.

I know now that it’s not simply about finding a great pair of pants, but rather, the process, or journey, in which those pants are ultimately found and enjoyed. It is a quest.  

These days I’m running a lot. And eating strange new vegetables, fruits, and spices that have taken a few inches off my waistline.

I have been scared of these foods for decades and each year my fiance nudges me a little bit closer towards the obvious — they are delicious and satisfying.

Do you like cinnamon?
Certainly not.
Have you ever tried it.
Not to my knowledge.

Now I find myself wrapping my belt around my pants several times to keep everything from hitting the floor.

I need the pants to be pants. I cannot wear sweatpants all day, I cannot wear sweatpants at the office. A shame. I would if I could.

And so I begin my quest at the Target department store — a wonderful place — magical and full of hidden pleasures. Years ago, Target, being a magical place, appeared out of nowhere.

When I ask people now, they simply can’t recall what life was like before Target. None of us can remember. It is blank.

Where did we shop?
Did we shop?
Probably not.

The men’s department is nothing short of a miracle. There I find style, I see someone trying.

I encounter slim fits and not-too-shabby outerwear. It is a place that makes me seriously consider purchasing a jean jacket. Perhaps I do need a Ninja Turtle tee shirt.

Most importantly, I note that the sock designer puts heart into each piece.

I have socks with:

  • A dog riding a skateboard.

  • An octopus wearing a hat.

  • A cactus set to the moonlight of a desert night.



My socks start conversations. And the prices are good, at least until you add everything up. By then it’s too late, everything is near and dear to your heart and already a meaningful part of your life.

To put something back would be like chopping off a little slice of your soul.

But I have never purchased pants from Target. Always shirts. Shorts even. But never pants. It is new territory, and I expect everything to go smoothly.

It does not.

My future sister-in-law is shopping for her baby, and she manages to finish long before I even get to the fitting room. The slacks here are nothing spectacular, at least not for me. I see slim pickings and weird textures.

The fitting room lady is immediately suspicious of me. I am a mess.

How many items?
Are you sure?
Not really.

I try on six pairs of pants, and six pairs of pants later I am sad inside.

The fitting room is a disaster. Pants are flung about, and the plastic hangers are in danger of remaining on the floor forever. I have never worked retail, and so I lack the proper respect for those who must always be folding.

TWMABF (Those Who Must Always Be Folding) Definition: A specific demographic of the population working in the retail clothing sector. Folding becomes who they are, their essence - for they must always be folding in both waking and dream states.

Everyday, unconscious, and lazy consumers wreak havoc on the perfectly organized and well-folded clothing shops of the world. More often than not, these consumers perform thoroughly aggressive inspections of potential wearable garments, only to forego the purchase of said garments, casting them back to the responsibility of TWMABF in a confused, sad, unfolded state of being.

I don’t even try to hang the pants back up - no one ever taught me how. The fitting room lady does seem impressed that I didn’t want even one pair out of the six to take home.

It is not often I walk out of Target without purchasing something. It feels wrong. I return home to my fiance, Amanda.   

Did you find any pants?
No pants.
No pants?

Still determined, my next attempt is at a thrift store called Savers.

This is my element. The smell of mustiness that accompanies all thrift stores reminds me of my youth and the thousands of Hawaiian shirts that consumed my wardrobe in one big gulp of flower patterns and bagginess.

The space is filled with people circulating like blood up-and-down and down-and-around the aisles looking for the next best thing at an incredible price point. Where are the pants? Too late.

I am at once intrigued by the strange menagerie of housewares. The picture frames are glorious. Pants must wait. I have frames to investigate for the first time in my life. I weigh them, juggle them about, and wonder what role they might possibly play in my future.

In the end, I choose three uniquely superior and slightly-used frames that speak to who I am as a person.

Too flashy?
Too quirky?
Just right?
Where are the pants?

No other store in the world has a more diverse section of vases, and I almost get trapped until I realize I can barely carry the frames, and I still need pants.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I see it, the most perfect and sensible magazine rack anyone could ever hope to lay their weary eyes upon. It is simply beautiful.

I stash the picture frames inside the magazine rack, and I become at once a genius in my own eyes.

Did anyone see that?
What I just did?

How many vintage tennis rackets from the nineteen-seventies am I even allowed to purchase at once? Do I need a license?

Onward. To the pants section.

Focus. I look for my size, and I see an excellent pair of salmon colored khakis that are inappropriate for almost every scenario in life that I will need to be wearing pants for. What else? There is nothing. Oh, look shoes. Loafers. Size 9. Comfortable. Wonderful. Sold. No pants.

Did you get pants?
I did not.
What are those?



Several days later I’m on a long walk to the Goodwill store that is located a moderately demanding distance from my apartment. But I walk — I want to savor this experience, earn those pants waiting for me at the end of this quest.

I don’t immediately go to the pants section. It’s too soon. I need to warm-up.

I select a nice extra-extra large zip-up sweatshirt from the rack. The shirt is packed tight with the essence of eighties ski-culture, and I know at once that I must not leave without it. It does not fit, but that hardly matters.

Of course, I see more picture frames, and I immediately pick up two probables. It takes ten minutes before I realize I do not need them.

What’s worse, the pants section is organized by color and not by size. I transform into a madman as my hair and beard grow at a furious an unnatural pace.

The aisles are non-existent and difficult to navigate. I become entombed by pants; it is quicksand, a trap. I panic and shoo myself away to the art section to recover.

After viewing some interesting pieces, I purchase my sweatshirt and continue on to the neighborhood of Allston where more vintage shops await.

I arrive at Harvard Avenue, home to the true hipsters, skaters, and rock n’ roll youth that know the value of a brief rebellion before moving off to somewhere with less noise, less racket, and less amazing Korean food.

I dabble here and there but the outlook becomes dim, and I begin to question my cool factor, which is hopelessly less picturesque than the many who travel these same streets in fashionable high-tops and top-notch salvaged denim.

At the next store I realize something: once you have purchased one very perfectly practical magazine rack, you start seeing magazine racks EVERYWHERE.

For a moment, I wander into an alternate reality where I have opened up a magazine rack store called Matt’s Racks:

I, the store owner, pluck sadly busted magazine racks from flea markets and yard sales and return them to their former states of glory via furnishing, sanding, and fresh varnish. I am the magazine rack guy, everyone in town knows me.

And guess what? It’s a profitable thing, an art even.

After much convincing and hullabaloo, I reluctantly join the local Chamber of Commerce and mentor enthusiastic youths pursuing dreams of their own that center around restoring vintage pieces of unimportant home decor.



I wonder if this is my true calling. Is this a pinnacle moment in my life? Will I be interviewed years later about my successes and I will tell them this is how it all started?

Do I buy these magazine racks?
All of them?
Is this my true calling.
Run Matthew. Run.

I boot myself from the shop and take to the streets again. I just want pants, and I’ve been hoodwinked by an unexpected passion for magazine racks. I am but a man, a weak man at that.

The next is a place I was hoping to avoid.

I enter knowing that I'm sure to be the only 32- year-old man shopping at Urban Outfitters in search of a good pair of pants. I see men’s tank tops everywhere. I wonder briefly if this is a men’s tank top store.

It might be, there certainly seems to be a market for it. I skip past the tanks and see a section of quirky books and designer record players.  

The pants look good.

Do you need any help?
If you only knew,
The dressing rooms are that way.

I pick up several pairs of pants. The texture is right. The length looks good. But something is amiss. It’s too good to be true.

Ahh. The price - $50 for a pair of slacks. I have a stable job but still I don’t feel like the kind of man confident enough to invest that kind of money into covering my bottom half.

If only the pants were $49.99 I might feel better about it. They are not.

I carry the pants around for a few minutes and then drop them off somewhere where they will feel lost and abandoned.

I know I am being watched, the store is empty — I am the prime customer. I zigzag back by the man tank-tops and shimmy down the stairs past the record players made of clay and hipster beards.

I say goodbye as pleasantly as I said hello to the desk clerks and breathe a vast sigh of escape upon reaching the sidewalk. Too close.

I am a pantsless man. Not for lack of effort, but maybe just lack of luck. I saunter in the direction I know will take me home, although it will be a long walk through Brookline back to my apartment.

And then. Out of the corner of my eye, I see it. And everything becomes clear.

My dreams of magazine rack refurbishing dissolve as the true purpose of my quest reveals itself — it was there waiting for me all this time.

The confusion, the walking, the sweating, the searching, the doubting, the perusing, the everything, was all worth it in just one moment of clarity. T.J. Maxx.

Maxx style.
Maxx savings.
Maxx life.

Amanda often tells me things that I listen to but don’t understand until much later when I figure it out for myself. This was kind of like that.

As I came upon the T.J Maxx sign, everything made so much sense, and I wondered why where I ended up was not the place I thought to start. But that’s life, isn’t it?

I knew it before I even went in. My pants were there waiting for me.

My only job now was to go and scoop them up. The Maxx was certainly busy, as it always must be when you’re a retail store slinging top-notch deals with brand recognition.

I escorted myself past the menagerie of home goods, not to be distracted this time, I kept on.

Matt Hobin - meet your pants.
Pants, this is Matt.

He’s going to wear you from now on, and treat you right, the way you were meant to be treated. When I reach the section with my size I knew that my pants had been on their own journey to find me. 

I took three pairs in my size to the dressing room. I removed my pants and took the new ones for a test drive.

Out of nowhere a very uplifting piece of classical music began to play, a real live harpist floated down and strummed along, people stopped in the store, gasping became the fashion, and I felt a sigh of intense, compassionate relief.

In ending, I can only say this: when a man meets his pants, he truly feels like a man.

These pants fit me, and I’m not going to lie, I look good.

Maybe no one will ever know what I went through to get here, but that’s OK, I’ll know, and I’m here, and our magazines now have a safe place to be magazines.

How does one ever go about finding what they’re looking for? I’m not even sure God knows the answer to that question. But if I were to gander a guess, I would say the answer is at the bottom of a moderately well-fitting, moderately priced, pair of pants. Cheers.

How are you today?
Well. And you?
Fine, thank you. Receipt in the bag?
Yes, that would be just perfect.



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