Friday, 18 September 2015




I was planning to make a fun list article today of all the museum-y fashion stuff I found on the internet this summer--a look back at 100 years of fashion history, my favourite costume-related procrastination site, and a rant to bear in mind while staring down the H&M sales rack in a couple months when the current 70s revival fizzles.

But then I indulged in my favourite "research" activity--scrolling through Forever21's new arrivals--and stumbled on to the season's latest fashion revelation. Mom jeans: they're back!

Image credit: Forever21.

I am no stranger to the lure of high-waisted denim. Mom jeans are practically my family heirlooms.

To the left, some original Mom jeans/Mom pants on my mom. To the right, Mom jeans on teenaged me.
Image credit: Anya Baker.

Wanting to investigate the implications of this development in the world of denim, I reached out to an eyewitness of the first iteration of Mom jeans: my mom. She wishes to make it clear that the Forever21 Mom jeans are but paltry reproductions of the original, as "original mom jeans would not have been so short OR cuffed (rolled). Moms didn't do that."

Compared to the skintight flares of the 1970s (to which she was also a horrified teenaged eyewitness), this new, relaxed cut of jeans was considered very flattering--odd then, to its fans, that it has taken on an association with dowdiness and outdatedness. As waistlines on trousers dropped through the 90s to the hip-baring bootcut jeans of the early 2000s, the fashionable young things from the 80s and early 90s continued to wear what they considered "normal" jeans: high-waisted, relaxed, and straight-legged. 

My private collection of Mom jeans, pilfered from my mother's closet. Image credit: Anya Baker.

The current Mom jeans trend isn't quite an homage to 80s trousers. Associating them by name with the popular mockery and backlash against such jeans in the decades post-80s makes it clear that this self-reference is meant in irony. I can't even tell if there's such thing as hipsters anymore--ironic ugliness has been curated and elevated to an ideal. Is it even anti-fashion irony if everyone is wearing Mom jeans in order to look fashionable? No! And I love it. To mangle the famous Brooke Shields ad for Calvin Klein (Mom!) jeans: nothing, not even irony, comes between me and my Calvins. 

And my mother is right--the Forever21 jeans are not accurate, in spite of their designation as fashionable 80s nostalgia. The whole outfit shown in the top image recalls the hot look for rebellious youth in 1950s Britain: the Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls.

Image credit: Ken Russell, 1955.

Unlike Mom jeans, this style of dress marked the wearer as highly fashionable and a little dangerous. Teddy Boys were a subculture with a reputation for forming gangs and causing violent mischief. In some areas, they developed as fascist and racist gangs, further cementing the negative reputation of the subculture as a whole. The upper classes stopped wearing Edwardian-style dress entirely because it was being adopted by the working-class youth as a self-developed, referential style.

In an attempt to get everyone to spend some cash updating their denim, retailers are casting about rather haphazardly for a reference point. In the case of the modern Mom jeans, designers are mixing references and trying to sell the whole look as a vehicle for ironic detachment from fashion.

Mom jeans also have some competition: fast fashion stores are determined to make skintight flares the next big thing this fall, and other relaxed cuts with mid-rise waists have been popular in the last couple years. The Jean of the Decade, the Skinny Jean, is being heralded as this generation's embarrassing denim. Guard your closets. The Berenstain/Berenstein Bears Parallel Universe Theory, as proposed by science blogger Reece in 2012, has been regurgitated by the internet recently. It is heartening to see cutting-edge physics applied to the world of fashion by young people on Tumblr.

Tumblr user sapphicwerewolves notes the possessive hold each generation has on their notable denim cut.

I look forward to ignoring the next three decades of trends as I desperately maintain that the jeans I consider "normal" are still cool. Can you dig it?  

Image credit: Saturday Night Live.


  1. Have you seen this 100 years of fashion video (from a few years ago):

    1. YES! I had forgotten about that one, thank you for bringing it back in to my life! I love that one even more than the new one--the dancing is not only great for showing off the fit of the clothes (a lot of the outfits in the new one don't look like they've been altered to fit the model), but it's also another layer of historical information. So cool!

    2. I always wish you could watch it in slow-mo because it has so many details! And don't forget how great the music is too!!