Do the Math, or Why I Own 57 Pairs of Black Pants and So Should You

Alisa Singer

What's in your closet, and why?

Every mother loves her kids and every woman loves her black pants. It’s as simple as that. In fact, approximately 99.99% of the female population in the United States adores, and requires an ample supply of, black pants.

This is because only black pants are, at once, sophisticated, versatile, slenderizing and, well, basic. Also they hide most stains though, admittedly, are brutal when it comes to pet hair. So most self-respecting women fill their closet or, if they are so fortunate, closets, with numerous pairs of black pants which they have accumulated over the course of many years.

The possible exception to this might be that always rare (if not purely theoretical) and ever-decreasing percentage of our population, the women who are actually morbidly underweight. However, those women probably perceive themselves to be fat anyway, which means they can be included.

(I use the term “pants” to include also slacks, trousers and other similar designations since I have no idea, whatsoever, of the difference between these terms.)

The concept of accumulation is worth thinking about. I have several pairs of black pants that are clearly older than my daughter in high school and, I’m pretty sure, a few that are at least as old as my son graduating law school. I’m guessing you can say the same about some of yours.

Sometimes we hold onto a pair of pants that has rarely (if ever) adorned the lower part of our bodies because we paid way too much for them in the first place and are required to rely upon the generally accepted accounting principle that we can amortize the cost over several decades (thereby justifying the original expense) simply by keeping them hanging, unworn, in our closet.

More likely, though, if we haven’t worn certain pants since Y2K it’s probably because we bought them at “low tide” (when we had just come off that disgusting but momentarily effective diet) and, of course, a few weeks from now after we start that miraculous new diet they’re going to fit perfectly, if not be actually swimming on us, and we will congratulate ourselves for having had the foresight to hang on to them for all those years.

Now there may be a few of you obsessive/compulsive types out there that actually subscribe to the laughable rule: “If you haven’t worn it in a year give it away”. Give it away! Who makes these things up? Rules like that prove that some people have no sense at all. Giving up pants under those circumstances would be like losing all faith in the prospect of ever realizing our dreams. And without hope, the rest of our lives would loom before us cold and bleak. And so we keep our pants. Pretty much forever.

In my case, I have 57 pairs of black pants that can be divided and sub-divided into various categories. In thinking of these categories I find it useful to employ the taxonomy applied in the classification of organisms populating the animal kingdom.

Thus, to begin with, we must think of “black pants” as a separate kingdom. We can then move immediately into three phyla (plural for phylum?): the ones from the off-season closet in the hall; the ones in the basement (that I had pretty much forgotten about); and the ones in my “current season” closet. The pants in all three phyla (i.e., closets) can be divided into three further classes: those that actually fit; those that may (almost for sure will) someday fit again; and those that never really did fit except for ten seconds five years ago on an empty stomach, and only then with the aid of control top pantyhose.

Of course the pants in each of the three phyla/closets would also fall into one of the three classes, which is how I calculate that at this point I have established 9 categories of black pants. But, as we all recall from high school biology, there’s more work to be done.

Next in our taxonomy is the sub-classification order, of which there are two: the pants that I really like, usually because they are either (i) comfortable, or (ii) flattering, but almost never both, and those that I don’t really like so much. And so at this point I have sub-divided my inventory of black pants into 18 categories.

As we move on to the scientific sub-classification family we must take into account the four additional very obvious divisions, i.e., (w) dressy, (x) for work, (y) casual, and (z) workout only. Even my rudimentary math skills tells me that we have created 72 classes of black pants, which means that I own an average of .79166666 pairs of black pants per category and we haven’t even hit genus yet.

Moving right along, at the level of genus we begin to approach the mathematical concept of infinity inasmuch as I view this category as encompassing the vast universe of length and style. To illustrate my point I asked a friend to write down every kind of pant style she can think of and, in literally three minutes, she came up with the following list which I will provide here verbatim:

  • high rise
  • mid rise
  • low rise
  • no waist
  • slim fit
  • relaxed fit
  • wide legged (remember Palazzo pants??)
  • straight legged
  • bell bottom
  • boot cut
  • pleated
  • capris
  • clam diggers
  • Bermudas
  • leggings
  • CULOTTES!!!! (I loved those)
  • carpenter
  • overalls
  • breeches/pantaloons
  • rompers/knickers??

Okay, we can debate whether some of these are actual official pant styles, but I have no doubt that with minimal further research I could come up with 50 more.

And for some reason she left off “jeans” (even though I noted she was wearing a pair), of which there are sufficient numbers of styles and varieties to arguably command a separate kingdom. I think you can get a sense of the difficulty of classification at this level, not to mention the trouble of figuring out the plural for genus (genies?).

We arrive at the next and final category (since I have now exhausted my high school knowledge of taxonomy): species. I don’t think any human being, even the relatively dense male kind, would quarrel with the fundamental proposition that, as Heidi Klum likes to say, “with fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you’re out”. So we must divide our little garment kingdom yet further, into two more categories: the pants that are more-or-less “in” and those that are clearly “out”. (Yes, I know, black pants should be classic – never in or out of style – but come on, when was the last time you saw someone in peddle-pushers?)

Think we’re through? Not likely, because, the reality of the situation is that not every pair of black pants will look well with any given top or jacket. For example, there are certain pants that are not “forgiving” enough to be worn with a short jacket or sweater, but rather require the visual protection of a long top (or large horse blanket). And some have pants legs that are too wide for a loose top and should only be worn with a more tailored piece.

And let’s not even get into the issue of shoes -- long pants that require high heels vs those that can only be worn with low heels and pants that will never look quite right unless worn with the only kind of shoes that you don’t happen to own.

The permutations are virtually endless, as I’m sure you can see. The result is that by the time you select a particular top to be worn during a particular season on a particular day for a particular event you’ll be lucky to have even one viable choice of black pants, let alone 57.

Which is why I think I need to go shopping for some black pants.

Alisa Singer’s humorous essays have appeared in a variety of print and online newspapers and magazines across the country and in Canada. She is the author of the books I Still Wanna Be A…, an illustrated collection of whimsical poetic fantasies in which she “morphs” herself into her childhood heroes, and My Baby Boomer Memory Album, an album to memorialize the first grand child, social security check, chin hair and other milestones of the second half of the boomer’s life. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website: or contacting her at [email protected].