Rethinking The Mom Jean

How did a two decade run of Guess girls and Versace Jeans Couture morph into the laughing stock of cyberspace?
Publish date:
May 23, 2014
The Style Con, mom jeans

Last week, on a routine eBay hunt, I inserted “Calvin Klein jeans vintage” into the search bar between “Prada rubber dipped oxfords” (the ones that got away) and “Junya Watanabe parachute” (we’ll talk later) and fell down a rabbit hole of Kate Moss mimicry/nostalgia befitting a Tumblr addict wrapped in her ex-boyfriend’s flannel with one of those tattoo chokers around her neck like it’s 1999 and we’re getting freebies at this month’s Scholastic book fair. Our shared interest: mom jeans.

Unconventional, off-putting, and universally despised, mom jeans–as they are colloquially known–are actually not, in fact, your mother’s jeans. They are Miss Understood, the gluten of the denim world, the loner babe who spends prom without a date, but with her Bonnebell and a cherry-flavored lollipop, underage at the neighborhood bar.

Running the gamut from high-waisted peg-legs to slightly androgynous tapers–all decidedly belly button-skimming and butt-hugging– they’ve garnered fans from Brooke Shields’ infamous, early ‘80s “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins?” tagline, through Winona Ryder’s and Kate Moss’ ‘90s grunge interpretations, and now, by torch holders and Instagram queens, the rabble-rouser Petra Collins, female/teenage gaze photographer, and Ali Michael, full-time super freak and cult-favorite model.

You see, if we’re going to term them more accurately, they are supermodel jeans, born of a special caste, glorified by their holiness (questionably negligible: supermodel genes), and their 21st century rise (to Saturday Night Live parody fame and to the waists of twenty-something thrifters) has somehow become synonymous with the long ass/semi-baggy, potentially pleated hip/dramatically pegged leg (optional: elasticized waist) of the pre- and post-Y2K era’s suburban soccer moms just before the inevitable return of flares (which, side note: later morphed into the ubiquitous bootcut, cc: GAP). That aforementioned parody, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in infamous faded baby blues, is the first link to show up for a simple “mom jean” Google search, and “mom jeans Obama”? A result of 18,600,000 links: one of which is The Wire’s investigation into the presidential phenomena; many of which are devoted to sore vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin’s distaste for the White House dwelling father of two’s #normcore steez. Cough, cough, bump-its tho, cough.

So how did a two decade run of Guess girls and Versace Jeans Couture morph into the laughing stock of cyberspace? Barring MTV conspiracy, re: the debut of Britney and her ass crack low-riders, it may have been the heroin-chic era’s androgyny, which gave way to baggy “boyfriend” jeans (barf term) and the minimal straight leg, followed by the rebirth of skinny jeans, care of Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, and a host of perceived prepubescence-achieved via baby food- on Bedford Avenue. Cue to current day, and behold, the backlash, as mainstream arbiter of all things “alt,” Urban Outfitters, now brands mom jeans for $29.99 in multiple colors and washes, and similar brand of “hipster” basics, American Apparel, slaps half-naked portraits of baby-faced porn stars in the jeans on billboards across the nation. Online fashion news sites advertise said wares, which filters down to regular ass women wearing them with abandon, and, because they don’t provide for x-ray body scans like liquid leggings or shredded “skinnies,” we are introduced to a world of frustrated Internet trolls and the trope of the concerned citizen/boyfriend/boardwalk perv, to whom I acknowledge: the ladies of Beverly Hills, 90210, promotional images for Friends, Jessica Simpson that one time, and–teen beauties of Twin Peaks on the cover of Rolling Stone be damned–that blasted camel toe. But more importantly, why do the trolls consider it their business to dictate what Gens Y and X are now resurrecting, and further, are they really the eyesore to which they’re attributed?

Because Claudia Schiffer was unavailable, I consulted my next best option: @ali_michael. “Did everyone who wore jeans before they were made out of spandex look like shit? No. The girls of the ’80s and ’90s are the ultimate babes. Winona Ryder? Kelly Kapowski? They look perfect. It’s not like they were called ‘mom jeans’ back then. It was all there was.” (Click to insert chapel pews’ “Amen” and “Hallelujah” soundbites here.) What really is the consensus on that hideous term “flattering” (sudden chill) anyway? To play by prescribed societal rules of what is “chic” or “pretty” is to heed to groupthink, and “perfection” is for senior prom hairstyles, that life-size Barbie in Ukraine, and, like, hello, professional airbrushers. See: Lara Stone’s front tooth gap, any Prada runway show in the last twenty years, or the epitome of fashion rebellion, Comme des Garcons.

Then again, if we want to discuss the nature of what actually constitutes as “flattering,” we’ll battle in circles and emerge with some cool bruises but really terrible nail beds, and frankly, I hate manicures, so let’s avoid the mat, because who dictates the “universal standard of beauty” anyway and what looks good to you doesn’t look good to me, etc. etc. (But because I can get an edge in and I’m known in certain circles as “The Knife,” let me remind you that when skinny jeans became a certifiable “thing,” comments section trolls on fashion blogs were clutching their pearls for the dawn of such an “unflattering” trouser. And as you cannot respond here, I will spare you my emoji side-eye.)

As Ms. Michael advises, “The right ones feel like they’re hugging your body in a way that is comfortable. The perfect fit is tricky to find, but when you know, you know.” When I traipse heaps of thrift store denim finds into New Jersey fitting rooms, I search for the elusive fit that would complement/clash with an imperative trifecta of 1) my collection of freak girl clothing, 2) vintage X-files and Seinfeld paraphernalia, and 3) my 6’2” figure. I say, one man’s Nadja Auermann in Versace is another man’s Janet Jackson circa the tail-end dance sequence of the computer-generated director’s cut of “All For You.” (No judgment if you sway more towards Obama’s tourist Adidas and Dad polo.) They should be vintage, hit at or above the ankle, and ideally be worn with semi-cropped baby tees and logo underwear, *sans hoops; MAC Spice lipliner*, or nothing at all. Holler, baby Brooke.

Then again, 2014‘s mom jean could be culled from Marc Jacobs’ final collection for Louis Vuitton, where the style was embellished with elaborate black sequins, and shown with flat ankle boots, sheer tops, and severe head plumage. A new dawn for the jean? If she’s really the supermodel her godmothers bestowed her as, it could just be her destiny. And, of course, world’s favorite provocative clotheshorse Rihanna did pull a LV-tagged mom jean on that spring cover of Vogue… but, you know, I’m just saying.

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