Are Mom Jeans Actually Made for Moms? One Mom’s Investigation
I believe myself to be able to maintain a healthy distance from the tides of fashion. In recent years I’ve said no to ubiquitous trends like moto jackets, which scan too costumey on me, and “cold shoulder” tops, which I fail to comprehend on an aesthetic or conceptual level. Did that leave me with approximately seven shouldered tops to contemplate purchasing in the past year? Absolutely. I won’t give in.
But don’t mistake this obstinance for a need to be different; I’m quite content to look like everyone else when I like what everyone else is wearing. Take, for example, my rising fascination with the popular, and somewhat broad, category of denim labelled as “mom jeans,” which imbue their wearers with that insouciant look that is the ne plus ultra of chic in our times. The more I’ve observed them, the more I’ve longed to sheath myself in such casual cool, one rigid leg of denim at a time.
And yet, I’ve hesitated to try them. The fear has it roots in my suspicion that, despite their name suggesting otherwise, contemporary mom jeans are absolutely not for moms. Instead, I presumed, they are best played by those for whom the matronly silhouette highlights, by way of contrast, the absence of any history of pregnancy in the body inhabiting it. But now that I am back into my old—stretchy—jeans following my recent pregnancy, and newly emboldened to reenter the non-maternity fashion world, I decided it was time to determine if I was right. This all brings us to last Monday, when I ordered seven pairs online to try to find out.
Before I proceed with enumerating my findings on the matter of whether moms can wear mom jeans, I should set a few parameters. By moms, I am referring not necessarily to women who have had children, but to those among us whose bodies were altered in a typical fashion by having children. Colloquially this is known as mummy tummy; real phenomenon, awful phrase, describing the little under-belly pouch that is a short-term addition for some, long-term for many.
By mom jeans I am referring to the type of high rise, rigid denim recently, and splendidly, worn by non-mom musician, Danielle Haim. I am not, notably, speaking of their pleated, supple, often elasticized waist namesake in a 2003 SNL skit.
The jeans I ordered were a mix of rises, sizes, and prices, some with a tiny bit of stretch, some without. After tearing through all the plastic bags—am I the only one who tries to do this as gently as possible so they may be reused? Are they ever reused?—and removing the pants, I quickly determined that the suggestion to size-up was wise. Wasp waists. I began with the 1 percent elastic, 99 percent cotton options because I thought they would be the answer to this puzzle. Unfortunately, the modest contribution to comfort provided by the presence of stretch in no way accounted for the fact that they were clearly less cute. The mom jean effect I was after could only be achieved with 100 percent cotton.
Getting those elastic-free pairs on was difficult. I had to take breaks between the buttons. Each button. Unlike the instantly conforming stretch denim we’ve all become accustom to in the past two decades, breaking in 100 percent cotton jeans takes time, commitment, or so the jeans’ reviewers explained. I contemplated what kind of commitment would be required to make the pairs that I could only remove by slowly peeling them off work. I suspect it’s not one I want to make.
I found one pair I liked, the dishearteningly named “Wedgie” jean by Levi’s, which the brand describes as “the Mom Jean…finally evolved.” They were hardly a home run. I liked how the higher than usual placement of the pockets on the back of the pants work as invisible puppet strings, lifting my backside north and creating an agreeably peachy configuration. Less flattering were the assumptions about the female form sewn into the hip and waist region. My surfeit flesh, clearly confused as to where it was being directed, distributed itself to wherever it could find refuge: small undulations of flesh appeared between the buttons, and a small tide pool of belly surfaced above the waist. Going up a size might remedy that issue, yes, but then they would be too baggy in the leg. I know they are supposed to mold to my body over time. But when? And how much?
Emma McClendon, Associate Curator of Costume at The Museum at FIT who recently put together an exhibit about denim, said the return of the mom jean is largely the result of the cyclical nature of fashion. Many are ready to try something different from the stretchy skinny jeans that have held on for nearly 20 years now. A rising interest in normcore and 90s fashion also inspires some of the interest in the high waisted, tapered “mom” silhouette, which, McClendon pointed out, was the standard cut for all women for most of denim’s history.