There are two kinds of women: those who freak out when their favorite jeans suddenly feel too small and those who shrug and pick out something else to wear. I'm in the former group simply for weight-control reasons: Lacking a bathroom scale, I rely on how my denim fits.
But size is not the point here. "Jeans gone rogue" can be a major wardrobe malfunction whether you're happy at size 6 or 16. So to stave off morning meltdowns and help you carry on in style, feel free to borrow from my backup strategy.
Maybe it is your dryer! Most jeans are not preshrunk during production, so — depending on their weave and blend — they are liable to shrink. Hmm, could that be why the label says "Wash cold, line dry"? Washing and drying 100 percent pure cotton jeans at hot temperatures will definitely tighten them, so avoid both the treatment and the object: Opt for blended denim instead, which includes polyester and nylon for softness, as well as 2 or 3 percent spandex for control; these more readily recover their sizing after wear. Wash on warm or cool, then dry halfway in the dryer; slightly tug the waistband to stretch it and air-dry the rest of the way.
Or could it be those extra pounds? The "Unfortunate 5" — the number of pounds by which a woman's weight typically fluctuates during and after menopause — can spell the difference between slipping on your jeans and having to shoehorn yourself into shapewear before you even try. Shed any shame, though; power-paneled panties are here to deliver us from stress. As Tina Fey proved via her strip-down on David Letterman's final show — "I don't know if you're aware of the contraptions under this dress" — even celebrities must indulge the bulge!
I see you've been out with Ben & Jerry again. It takes more than a pint of Yes Pecan to bring on the Unfortunate 5: eating your way through a celebratory weekend, hormone shifts, a stressful or sleep-deprived week. Even exercise can do it; muscle weighs more than fat. Give things a day or two to stabilize, then cut the crap — sugar, extra salt, alcohol, bad carbs — until you reach fighting trim again.
De-bloat in order to gloat. Try this 50+ supermodel trick to ease zip-ups: Soak in a bathtub filled with warm water and 2 cups of Epsom salts. As the dissolved minerals get absorbed through your skin, they drain excess fluid and deflate problem puffy spots such as your abdomen and ankles. Naturally diuretic foods — cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, asparagus — can help, too. So can ginger tea (no gum, soda or fizzy water!).
Put on a slouchy pair. C'mon, admit it: There's a pair of looser, more relaxed jeans in your closet, filed under Plan B. Roll them to reveal your trim ankles, then match them with a crisp, button-down shirt, likewise rolled to reveal your narrow wrists and forearms. Finish the effect with a blazer, dark glasses and some pointy-toed shoes — pumps, flats or booties — and you'll look sexier than if you'd squeezed into your tyrannical skinny jeans.
For more beauty and fashion tips, take a look inside my book The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine (available on iPad).