“These jeans are almost indestructible,” the salesman bragged to my mom as she pulled and tugged on the inseam of my pants. She pushed her fingers between the waist band and my stomach and pulled upward as if she was trying to give me a wedgie.
“They’re awfully tight,” she said.
“That’s okay, they also come in husky sizes,” He said reassuringly.
He shouted to a woman who was sorting clothes a few aisles over. “Do we have Toughskins in a 28 husky?” My face turned red as I tried to suck in my stomach.
“Thanks for letting everyone know that there’s a chubby kid in the store,” I thought.
That’s my first memory of shopping for clothes. As a ten-year-old boy, I was beginning to notice girls and wanted to dress cool. Unfortunately, my mom had other ideas. Instead of straight-legged Levis or fashionable designer jeans, she was partial to Toughskins. For those who are unfamiliar with the infamous brand, they were Sear’s tri-blend jeans that were an icon of uncoolness in the 1970s and 80s. Made of Polyester, Nylon and a little bit of cotton, they boasted that they were “the toughest of their tough jeans.” They never stretched, faded or shrank in the washing machine. They even offered a guarantee.
In Ms. Napolitano’s 5th grade class, I sat at a table in the back of the room with the dorks. The kids that were too big, too small, too smart or not smart enough. Kids like me who were square pegs and had not yet learned how to shave down their sharp edges to wedge themselves into round holes.
I recall thinking that I was one of the lucky ones. Although Toughskins came in a rainbow of assorted colors, my mom’s favorite color was navy blue. My pants could almost pass for real denim at a distance. My friend Steve, who sat next to me, was less fortunate. His mom outfitted him with bright red or green Toughskins. He even had a pair of plaid ones that were reserved for special occasions. They were like a flashing neon sign that signaled how uncool he was. We both accessorized our pants with a fresh pair kicks from K-Mart.
As time went by and I continued to grow, my jeans became tighter. My midsection began to bulge and spill over the top of my belt like a muffin that had been overcooked. The space-aged materials and industrial construction would not allow my pants to stretch to accommodate my growing body. When I complained to my mom, she cheerfully replied that she could fix them — and that’s exactly what she did.
After a quick trip to the fabric store, she returned with a thick roll of white elastic. She split apart the seam in the back of my pants and stitched in the elasticl, which allowed the waist line to expand. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about them being too short. She was so thrilled with her handy work that she performed the same procedure on all my pants.
The next day, I arrived at school with my bell-bottoms flapping in the wind just above my ankles. My newly expanded pants now featured a contrasting elastic “V” pointing downward like an arrow towards my butt crack. The kids at school were delirious with laughter, and I was mortified. I was certain that I would never be one of the cool kids.
Over time, my body began to stretch and mature. My mom finally gave in to my protests and bought me a pair of 501 Levis. Eventually, I learned to shave down my edges to fit nicely into a round hole.
They say that whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. My years in Toughskins didn’t make me stronger, but they certainly made me tougher.
Bob Kelsoe is a writer & photographer from Southern California. He has a passion for crafting non-fiction stories based on his adventures and real-life experiences. His work has been featured in numerous print and online publications.