When my teenage daughter told me she was about to do something awful recently, I had to inform her that I couldn’t support her choice. She didn’t care. She went out and bought the low rise jeans anyway.
Her unauthorized wardrobe choice catapulted me to the early 2000s, when the global fashion industry conspired against me, trapping me in clothing that I found unflattering and uncomfortable. I thought – I hoped – that the days of low rise pants dominating the world were over, but then I saw the collections for Spring/Summer 2022, with Versace’s skinny pants, Missoni’s baggy jeans and Miu Miu’s low-rise pants.
“The resurgence of exaggeratedly low-rise jeans can certainly divide a room, but we’re seeing more and more brands getting involved in this nostalgic 2000s trend,” says Holly Tenser, womenswear buying manager for Lending- to wear at Browns. “We’ve seen brands such as Conner Ives, Balenciaga, The Attico and Dion Lee introduce cropped waist jeans, wide leg jeans and oversized cargo pants, all giving us a blast from the past.”
And giving me a panic attack. I hate low rise pants, although, yes, I wore them because in the late 90s I was in my early twenties, working in the zeitgeisty world of teen magazines and not having enough common sense to realize that I could say no to trends. Designer jeans were the best and although they didn’t fit my body type, as the photographs of the time will show, no one made anything above the navel for years. But it’s not just personal. Low rise jeans were worn at a time which, on reflection, was rather problematic for women. An era that saw the intensification of ‘raunch culture’, where hypersexualized imagery was presented as liberated, where ‘lad mags’ had come to the fore and where the mainstream media gaze was loudly, proudly, crudely masculine.
At the time, I was working at a publishing house with a successful men’s magazine of that ilk in the same building. The unashamed voice ratings of whether or not you were hot made you feel like you were in high school. Wonderbras, thongs, and a low waist were all touted as evidence of the boldly free times we were in, but I remember feeling bad about this look: pulling my T-shirt down and riding my pants up while trying to control uncomfortable thong panties.
Alexander McQueen couldn’t have foreseen all of this when he first offered the bumster pants to his drag artist friend Trixie Bellair in 1992. This prototype pair was sold by London’s Kerry Taylor Auctions in 2014 for 3,500 £. The catalog details that “the measurement from the crotch to the waistband is only 7 inches”. They inspired the trousers from McQueen’s ‘Nihilism’ collection for Spring/Summer 1994,” McQueen said in a 2009 interview with the BBC.
Not quite so low, but commercial blockbuster, hipsters designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in the mid-90s. Madonna embraced the look, wearing low-rise black pants at the 1995 Video Music Awards. In 1998, she was synonymous with bare-bellied pants, wearing a pair of gray Chloé pants from Stella McCartney’s Spring/Summer 1998 debut for the brand in the video for “Ray of Light.” In the early 2000s, the style in its denim version became the jeans of choice for a generation of young female celebrities, including Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. As low-rise jeans became mainstream, the term “muffin-top” entered the parlance, a term we would now refer to as body-shaming but was widely used in magazines of the time to describe the belly which naturally appears above a hollow. belt.
However, for a new generation, these complex associations of the 2000s will be about as relevant as flip phones and pagers. My 22-year-old neighbor Jasmine, a college student and Depop dealer, says they’re “the only good thing” we can get from the Y2K throwback. “I think high waists are less flattering to me and make me look square,” she says. She buys her second-hand low-rise jeans from brands such as True Religion or Rock Revival on eBay.
Browns’ Holly Tenser thinks the new iteration of the look is “much nicer,” veering towards the loose, baggy cuts of skate culture rather than the skinny kick flare versions of the 2000s. In a culture that is, thankfully, more inclusive of different body shapes and mindful of body shaming, maybe this take on the low waist is the right fit.
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