Although I don’t normally write about fashion, I felt the need to comment on one of my worst fashion moments. You see, a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal’s Off Brand column published an article titled “Farewell, High-Waisted Skinny Jeans. The Low-Rise Returns.” The leade stated that “The low rise pant, one the most divisive fashion trends of the early 2000s is back” and also referred to our rigorous reporting on the topic, including investigations such as “How Low Can These Low Rise Jeans Go?”
The accompanying picture to the Journal story was as dystopian and disturbing as they come. It was a photo Bella Hadid holding an iced matcha with her abdomen exposed and her face covered by a mask. You could be looking at Paris Hilton’s silhouette in the early 1990s if you subtract the mask and matcha.
Many of us don’t remember what happened the last time we wore low-rise pants. Yes, I am aware that my entire critique is influenced by the fact that this isn’t my first rodeo. My mom used to take me to Manhattan’s department stores and tell me that I had not worn a particular trend (bell bottoms, animal prints, or gothic) before. It was actually quite annoying that she had. My mom was photographed in miniskirts from the 1960s, denim bell bottoms from the 1970s and huge chiffon dresses by the 1980s. When aviators were being sold for aviation, my mom wore them.
Fashion, like politics and the supply chains, is always changing. Hemlines change, colors change, sometimes in response to cultural changes, other times to reflect women’s changing roles around the world, such as during World War II. There is no shortage of fabric. Women have been riding bikes for years. There’s no reason to wear pants that are cut just above our underwear. This cycle is not necessary, I beg you. We can simply say no to this trend.
In the early 2000s, two C-sections back, I had a pair Frankie B low rise jeans I purchased at a Third Avenue shop called “Scoop”. It played loud music and occupied three storesfronts. I paired the skintight jeans with a long-length C & C California t-shirt so people couldn’t see my bottom. It was terrifying to stand up. To save my fellow New Yorkers, I would hold my waistband and my tee shirt together. It was extremely stressful.
It wasn’t just me who was struggling. In 2005, I was at a baby’s birthday party. The elegant mother of the child in question leaned over the baby and showed her red lacy thong. I wanted to say somethig but didn’t want to embarrass her. It was a decade filled with inadvertent thong flashing.
These jeans remind us of what era of feministism we were in. Low-rise jeans were popular in the early aughts. They also saw a revival of low-back tattoos. This tattoo was once called a “tramp stamped” by the women who used it. It is probably the most misogynist nickname that I can conjure. Low-rise jeans were made famous by singers like Britney Spears and actresses such as Britany Murphy. These women are women society decided got a bad deal in the 1990s, 2000s. We should remember that young women, whether they are famous or not, were at the worst of times during the 20th century.
As Anne Helen Petersen writes in her substack newsletter, “When millennial women shudder at the prospect of the return of the low-slung jean, we are not being old, or boring, or basic. It’s not all about the fucking jeans AS JEAN, and I wish people could understand that. It was about our bodies.” Peterson continues to explain that in the late ’90s, young women were told to consider celery “a negative calorie food.” Kate Moss’s remark that “nothing tastes better than skinny feels” and many other casual promotions of a strict diet culture are examples of this. Low-rise jeans are, in fact, the rise of the impossible to flat stomach. Petersen wrote, “We are trying to reject a culture moment that made so many people feel unwanted, incomplete and alienated from any fragile confidence we’d managed. We are not trying to inflict that upon ourselves, but, more importantly, the next generation.”
21 years have passed since the beginning of the millennium. The world is in turmoil as it tries to recover from a pandemic that claimed millions of lives. Many governments are having trouble with everything, from the supply chain to autocracy. It’s hard enough to live without jeans that show your butt or make you feel bad.