One Woman's Journey Into the Brave New World of Wide Leg Jeans

Illustration for article titled One Woman's Journey Into the Brave New World of Wide Leg Jeans
Screenshot: Levi’s

The death of skinny jeans has been but a whisper for some time now, foretold perhaps by Rihanna in 2016 sporting an absolutely enormous pair of jeans, a high-fashion interaction of the Jncos I wore during the late ’90s. The rise of “mom jeans” and high-waisted pants alike have given over to straight-legged, loose fit jeans that are apparently very popular with the youth. Beholden as I am to Instagram’s algorithm, as well as the relentless marketing emails I receive daily, I have fallen prey to this trend, and am not ashamed. Blessedly, I’ve discovered that non-skinny jeans, for me, are actually flattering, functional, comfortable.

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According to the New York Times, the move away from skinny jeans to a more accommodating pant leg is corroborated by sales data from retailers like Levi’s and Madewell; though people are still buying skinny jeans, there is a shift towards other styles that let the gams breathe. TikTok is full of fashionable youngsters showing off thrift hauls, which include what I affectionately refer to as “comedian jeans”—baggy, loose-fitting men’s Levi’s that go well with square-toed loafers, Nike Air Monarchs, and a mediocre set at a comedy club. These jeans are now widely available on the racks at the vintage stores in my neighborhood, selling for more money than I want to pay, but have also trickled down to mass retailers. Everlane offers a wide range of skinny jeans in various rises, as well as a more straight-legged, relaxed, vintage-adjacent iteration, called the ’90s Jean that is meant to be reminiscent of the jeans worn by the decade’s supermodels—nipped in at the waist, a leg that allows for some room, and carefully placed pockets that ride high and wide on the ass. Recently, they caved in full to the trend, and dropped the Way-High Jean, a jean with a rise so high that it promises to erase any trace of your belly button.

I’ve resisted the siren call of these new pants, whatever they may be, not because I thought they would look bad or because I am afraid of change, but because it took mass-market retailers a minute to catch up. The Levi’s Wedgie jean, cut very much like the platonic ideal of the vintage jeans worn by taut youngsters and Hailey Bieber, only goes up to a size 32. Regardless of how many times I measured my body, it was clear that the 32 would not fit. But my quest for the ass-lifting properties of the Wedgie led me to a plus-sized iteration that I found on Amazon that was somehow too big and also wildly unflattering. The crucial difference is that the plus-sized Wedgie Jeans have a skinny leg and the straight-size ones do not. (Had I been better at reading, I would’ve recognized this and not wasted my money.) More fuel for my personal theory, which is that the trendy jeans are not meant for anyone over a size 16 because of some long-held belief that skinny jeans are slimming and any excess fabric around the lower half of the body, a sartorial death sentence for anyone over a size 14. This, of course, is not true. Anybody can wear whatever they want, but it’s much easier to do so when the things you want are available for you in your size.

Thankfully, one of 2021's blessings is that anyone who wants to wear the new pants that everyone else is wearing can. Retailers like Madewell, the Gap, and Old Navy, all of which offer plus-size options, are now carrying jeans that diverge from skinny and slide towards straight. Universal Standard recently debuted two new denim styles — the Donna and the Etta—in cuts that are more forgiving around the leg. I discovered these two styles because of an ad on TikTok featuring two real women trying on the pants. Coincidentally, TikTok is also where the pant wars started. Full circle, at last.

The purpose of this column is to inform you, the reader, what these pants look like on a normal woman. I am the normal woman in question, and luckily, I own a fair amount of pants that are not skinny jeans.

Illustration for article titled One Woman's Journey Into the Brave New World of Wide Leg Jeans
Photo: Megan Reynolds

 This pair, which I bought at Target, is the closest to the trend, and truthfully, they fit well—cinched at the waist, flattering on my butt, and roomy enough in the legs.

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Illustration for article titled One Woman's Journey Into the Brave New World of Wide Leg Jeans
Photo: Megan Reynolds

Inspired by my success at Target, I also found a pair of vintage Levi’s, of the sort that the teens love to thrift, but for a reasonable price. My neighborhood is full of vintage stores that sell jeans for $125. I understand that that is a price some are willing to pay, but I am not one of them. These Levi’s cost me $30, and have successfully cured me of my fear of vintage Levi’s not fitting me right; technically, the waist needs to be taken in, but I also do not have to lay down to put them on. Also, I am showing the butt because I now believe in the magical properties of pocket placement, and also, my butt.

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Illustration for article titled One Woman's Journey Into the Brave New World of Wide Leg Jeans
Photo: Megan Reynolds

I own a fair amount of pants in this style already, because of my previously-mentioned calves, which are large and in charge. I do not know where these pants came from, but knowing that I am cheap, my guess is Buffalo Exchange, pre-pandemic. These jeans are incredibly tight, and the zipper doesn’t love to stay up when I sit down. We are coming to an agreement where this is okay. Please note the Barbie foot, where I attempted to pose like Hayley Bieber. Thank you.

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Other pants that I own that are not suitable for this experiment are mostly kick-flare denim from Madewell and a pair of pants from Everlane that also do not fit the brief. Though I do not feel “young” in any way when wearing the pants above, I think that’s because I am not brave or willing enough to wear a crop top or any shirt that isn’t a tee shirt. That’s fine. It’s my life. And the jeans are also fine.

Senior Writer, Jezebel

DISCUSSION

thesoymilkconspiracy
Baberaham Lincoln

I’ve been on board with wide-leg pants for a while (jeans are a different story), but my biggest problem is the fucking crop. WHY are all these pants cropped mid-calf?! It looks awkward and terrible on everyone, but particularly me because I am short and have ankles like tree trunks. Make pants normal length again I am begging you retailers make me a pant, just one pant, that hits the top of my shoe.

I did come around to the baggy jeans thing and begrudgingly bought a $20 pair at Buffalo Exchange. Turns out I love them and after 2020 — the Year of Our Lord Athleisure Wear — these are the only hard pants I want to put on because they really are damn comfy.

My biggest dilemma is how to style them. I have a drawer full of crop Ts that look great with high waisted skinnies don’t look quite right with the baggies because the hem hits right at the top of the jeans and makes my waist disappear. The long baggy shirt + baggy jeans trend is cute on others, but not my style, and also makes me look like I’m trying too hard to be “youth.” Tucking in my regular stripe long sleeves and basic Ts the way I do with skinnies just looks schlubby and off in the baggies. I’ve been going with flowy modal Ts, cropping and tightening them by knotting them up at the waist 90s style, and it’s working well but I only have 2 of those shirts and this uniform is starting to get boring. On days I feel really saucy I just wear them with a bralette that can get away with being called a tank top, but this is obviously not appropriate for many outings as I am not an instagram model. Suggestions welcome pls.

All this being said, I will still die and be buried in high waisted skinnies. Other trends will come and go, but tight black jeans/pants are timeless, eternally flattering, and a staple of a variety of classic and “alt” styles that will always be in the ether.