BY DEB ACORD
The Fort Wayne Gazette
Call it the jeans conundrum. You want a new pair that doesn't label you as over-the-hill, but you want them to reach over your butt. You want them ... not too tight but not too baggy ... not too high-waisted in that "mom jeans" kind of way, (parodied in a faux ad on "Saturday Night Live" with the slogan "I'm not a woman anymore; I'm a mom") but not too Britney Spears, pre-baby fat ... not too dark (like Wranglers, pressed and starched for a rodeo cowboy) but not too light (that mom jeans commercial again, praising "periwinkle blue") ... soft, just to make them comfortable, but without those fade lines (they're called whiskers) and frayed edges.
Yes, you know exactly what you want, so you head out to a department store where you find a wall of jeans in styles, washes and fits that require a denim dictionary and a week of trying-on time.
Gap alone has 15 blue-denim colors with sometimes perplexing names including "destructed fade," "light authentic" and "sandblasted authentic" (not to be confused with "sanded authentic").
Dillard's has denim stations throughout its store, arranged in juniors and misses styles as well as by designer.
JC Penney offers a helpful guide on its catalog Web site, showing you how to chose one of six styles combined with one of three cuts and one of three rises.
It's enough to make a jeans fan such as Jutta Chester sing the blues. Chester had been trying on jeans for two hours when she stopped to compose herself in front of the three-way mirror at JC Penney.
Chester usually relies on classic Levis, but she was dismayed to find that even that venerable company has gone crazy with new styles, washes and fits.
"I'm so frustrated," she said. "They either have a little tiny zipper or they are huge."
Women who understand the importance of the perfect pair of jeans understand Chester's frustration.
The search for a stylish, properly fitting pair of jeans can take a woman an entire day, as she pulls on dozens of pairs, leaving behind a pile of low-rise and straight-leg rejects.
Many times, after a grueling day in front of cruelly lit dressing-room mirrors, a jeans-buying woman just reverts to old habits, throwing on the high-waisted, roomy-butt, peg-leg, ankle-brushing jeans that forever label her as a fashion loser.
"The fear of failure is one of the main reasons women end up buying more nasty mom jeans," said Sharon Haver, a New York City-based fashion expert and founder of FocusOn-Style (www.focusonstyle.com), a Web-based fashion magazine.
But Haver says the range of jeans on the market is an opportunity, not a problem.
"There is almost no excuse anymore to say, `Nothing fits me,'" she said.
So, it seems, women need to make peace with the idea that they'll have to spend time to get those perfect pairs of jeans. After all, it is important to them, according to 43things.com, a Web site on which people write about their goals, dreams and ambitions. On the site, 262 women listed "Find the perfect pair of jeans" along with "Take better care of my health" (22), "Start a family" (175) and "Pray every day" (152).
Women also need to do away with the idea that they have to stick with a certain style, Haver says.
On her Web site, which features her interactive style column, she frequently sees women write in with the same lament: "I can't wear the same jeans my daughter does."
To that she replies: "Why not?"
"Just because you hit a certain age doesn't mean you can't wear jeans. Find a pair that fits you. If you have a great body, you can wear the same jeans as your daughter if you want to. Today's 50 looks like yesterday's 30."
Haver doesn't think "wearing your daughter's wardrobe" is a fashion failure.
"What's bad is wearing the same frumpy haircut, pink polo and baggy jeans with white sneakers," just because you always wore that.
Carol Nagel can't wear the jeans she wore in the past. She's lost 140 pounds in the past year, shrinking to a size 8 from a size 26.
She's tried on lots of jeans to find perfection, and she stumbled upon a trick to make the job easier: "I've found the brands that look good on me, and I stick with them."
Nagel prefers classic bootcut styles by Liz Claiborne and Polo by Ralph Lauren.
"It's all about comfort and fit. I want to feel good in them, and I want them to look good."
One way to look good is to pay attention to fashion trends, Haver says. "Just watch what other people are wearing."
What are women wearing in New York City right now?
"It's as if all the girls wearing premium boot-cut jeans threw them away one day, and the next day began wearing skinny jeans and flats."
Skinny jeans might not be your favorite, but you might like an accompanying trend, Haver says.
"Tops are getting longer. They are cut to be kind of flowy with a little cling. They look great with a shorter jacket and the best thing - they cover your tush."
And at least skinny jeans won't be mistaken for those unflattering, high-waisted, roomy Mom jeans.
"Those are good for riding a horse," Haver says, "but for any other activity, all they do is make women look horsey."