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Low-rise jeans are back. Don’t panic

Low-rise jeans are back. Don’t panic.

Millennials are terrified of the return of low-rise jeans and Y2K fashion. But what if they looked different this time around?

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This will be all of us in the year 2025! Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

This story is part of a group of stories called

Some time ago (as in, before pants made out of denim ceased to be part of our day-to-day wardrobes) I made a bet with a friend who said that she’d never wear low-rise jeans again. There were whispers going around that the most maligned item of mid-aughts clothing was starting to pop up on Bella Hadid, fashion show runways, and cool young people in places like downtown Manhattan — basically the trifecta of “things that are going to become a Thing.”

Anyway, I set a reminder on my phone that by the year 2025, she’d be wearing low-rise pants again without ever really intending to. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of this look — I endured middle and high school in the 2000s and share the requisite fashion-related traumas. It’s because that’s how fashion trends operate: A new look starts bubbling up and, at first, it’s met with disdain and fear and seen as something only meant for the young and professionally beautiful. Gradually, though, it becomes so ubiquitous and watered down that even people who don’t give all that much thought to what they put on their bodies are buying it at the store (cerulean sweater monologue from The Devil Wears Prada, etc., etc.).

You can imagine how this trend might concern those of us who do not look like supermodels. Gotham/GC Images

No one, obviously, should wear any item of clothing they hate just because other people consider it cool. Arguably the most fashionable thing you can do as a person is find a style that fits your own body and life and stick to it, and if you live long enough, you’ll find yourself on-trend several different times. Or, just wear what you want because nobody actually cares.

But this is an undeniable fact: Low-rise jeans are cool again. And women are freaking the fuck out.

People tend to forget how much they used to hate the things they love. It was, after all, a mere 12 years ago that the media pilloried pop star Jessica Simpson for daring to put high-waisted pants on her size-four body, back when anything but the lowest-low-rise was seen as looking matronly and outdated, as though you were trying to “hide something.” But Simpson was simply ahead of her time: As the 2010s unfolded, the decade brought along a demure minimalism and a resistance to the joyfully sleazy era of exposed hipbones in Juicy Couture tracksuits. For a handful of years, it felt as though the coolest thing you could wear was a giant beige sack.

Enter: high-rise jeans, which come with their very own girdle in the form of thick, stretchy denim pressed against our stomachs, and land at or above the natural waist. The 2010s were a magical time for those of us who relish the feeling of being sucked and squeezed into our clothing, and although not always objectively comfortable, per se, they offered their own sort of comfort to people who might have previously been pants-resistant. “Low-rise pants are walking billboards for extreme thinness and androgynous frames,” wrote Rachel Syme in an ode to high-waisted pants in the New Yorker in 2019, “but high-rise styles can conform to bodies of all shapes and sizes. They not only highlight hips and butts — they demand them.”

The mainstreaming of the high waist has been a balm for many women who never wish to go back to a time when one was constantly at risk for exposing their ass crack. There are innumerable posts on Instagram and TikTok devoted to showcasing the superiority of high-waisted bottoms, which often hold in the stomach and accentuate the smallest part of the body, with side-by-side images — one with an hourglass-like figure inside a pair of high-rise leggings, another that invoked the most insidious term from the year 2003, the “muffin top.”

Cultural discourse around female bodies has always been inseparable from clothing, and when we talk about low-rise jeans, it’s obvious that we’re talking about more than pants. It’s now a popular TikTok trend to note how in the 2000s, “women’s bodies were the fashion, not the clothes” (to the extent that this is all that different today is worth questioning, but at the very least it is now considered crass to publicly ridicule a woman’s body when she dares to leave her home). Recall any red carpet image from the 1990s to the late aughts, when jeans were at their lowest and crop tops were really more like bralettes, items for which a flat stomach has often been an unspoken requirement. Those who failed to fit the ideal body type — which Simpson, along with almost every tabloid staple, did at one point or another — were punished.

We have social media and the relative democratization of cultural influence to thank for spreading the idea that perhaps it was a bad thing for women and girls to despise their bodies 99 percent of the time. Via the internet, groups of curvy and fat women could connect, share their stories, trade styling tips, and start the seedlings of what’s since become the huge swath of social media devoted to “body positivity.” It’s also social media that helped us view celebrities more like our own friends rather than out-of-touch elitists, meaning that the snarky tabloid talk scrutinizing famous womens’ bodies was no longer acceptable to fans who’d started to see them as human.

So it isn’t entirely mysterious as to why women, especially those who are now in their 20s and 30s, have long been terrified that low-rise jeans and the culture surrounding them could once again become our reality. “If you were anything above a size 2, you were fat. Millennial women learned that through their most formative years, when they were children and teenagers … they see this trend come back and it’s a trigger,” explains one TikToker in a video with more than 350,000 “Likes.”

In an article about fatphobia and Y2K fashion, reporter Kelsey Weekman explains that “Not only are those trends hard to access for people above a size 2, but when anyone else tries them on for size, they’re often seen as lazy and disheveled.” In her memoir, fashion writer and editor Gabrielle Korn connected the hypersexualized fashion trends of the 2000s to her experience of gender, sexuality, eating disorders, and sexual assault. The looming possibility of low-rise jeans being cool again has taken on an almost apocalyptic aura in the wider culture, as though nothing could be more catastrophic. “Generations before us, women fought for the right to wear pants,” she writes. “Now we need to make sure those pants don’t make us want to starve, don’t punish us for eating a nice big lunch, and can be worn by all of us.”

Here is the problem: It’s already too late. Three years ago, in the lethargic week between Christmas and New Year’s, the fashion journalist Sarah Spellings made a prediction. She’d spoken to professional trend forecasters, to designers at mainstream brands like Levi’s and smaller luxury labels like Linder, and determined that in the year 2020, low-rise jeans would start to come back in a big way. “The Countdown to Low-Rise Jeans Has Begun,” declared the Cut’s ominous headline.

“Everyone hated it,” Spellings tells me now. (Sample tweet: “OVER MY DEAD BODY.”) But in the years since her prediction, the writing on the wall has only gotten clearer. The hottest genre of clothing on Depop, the online secondhand shopping app that’s popular with teens, is vintage Y2K in the form of satin bustiers, low-rise cargo pants, tiny baguette bags, halter tops, and baby tees. Brands like Tom Ford, Dion Lee, Fenty Puma, Kith, and I.Am.Gia have played around with ironic 2000s throwbacks to great fanfare. TikTok accounts showing off their thrifted Y2K outfits have gained hundreds of thousands of followers, inspiring tons of viewers to experiment with their own looks at home.

Low-rise jeans have become a particular sticking point for the mostly imaginary battle between millennials and zoomers on TikTok, where millennials plead for teenagers to stop buying low-rise jeans as if they could somehow stop these jeans from becoming cool again. This feud is not to be confused with the one in which millennials make cringey videos about teenagers coming to take away their right to wear skinny jeans (they are not).

Yet ironically, the discourse around skinny jeans was much the same as the one currently happening about low-rise pants. Spellings recalls reading fashion magazines in the mid-aughts that claimed skinny jeans “don’t look good on anyone” and “should be avoided at all costs,” only a few years before they became the de facto denim silhouette. And who could forget the decade-long moral panic over whether leggings were suitable to cover a woman’s butt, a debate that now seems even more laughable in a year in which people almost exclusively wore athleisure.

As someone who doesn’t plan to wear low-rise jeans in the future, Spellings has the more tempered perspective of an industry professional. “People always want change in fashion,” she explains. “If anything, the vitriol against low-rise jeans has made them more appealing to young people and pushed them further into the limelight. When I was a teenager, I didn’t want to wear what my mom was wearing. It’s human nature to want to push back and try new things and be a little provocative.”

The return of Y2K fashion likely does have a bit to do with generational difference — if you were too young to remember the 2000s, it’s a much easier decade to romanticize — but it isn’t as though every single person born after 1996 is suddenly thrilled about low-rise jeans. Nicole Nuñez, a 22-year-old student at Manhattan College who made a TikTok explaining the vitriol against the style, says that instead, the line is more related to body shape. “It’s interesting to see that most of my friends that are fully embracing it are thinner friends, and then my curvier friends are the ones that are very against it. I think this is a trend that I will let come and go,” she laughs.

I’ve noticed a similar pattern in my own life. Now that I’m approaching 30, almost none of my friends are interested in revisiting the trends of our middle school days because, well, we already lived through that once, but also because we’re bigger and curvier than we were then, and we still remember the importance that Y2K style placed on thinness. When I scroll through the #lowrisejeans hashtag on TikTok, it’s almost exclusively teenagers who are very thin, accentuating not only their pants but the flatness of their stomachs with tiny crop tops.

Some of them, however, arrive with welcome messages. Siena Filippi, a 22-year-old who upcycles vintage clothing in the Boston suburbs, has pioneered a series on how to style so-called “scary” fashion trends for spring and summer. Low-rise denim, of course, was the most dreaded example.

In one video, Filippi explains that wearing low-rise jeans doesn’t automatically mean exposing your whole stomach. “The key is to wear something long enough that it meets the low waistline. It’s honestly all about creating a uniform figure and not chopping your stomach at weird parts,” she says. (In her opinion, the most terrifying summer trend is not low-rise jeans but Bermuda shorts).

“People are a little nervous, which is understandable,” she says. “I don’t even know if I love them. But I like experimenting and creating outfits that wouldn’t necessarily work with high-waisted jeans, so that element is very fun.” She says she’s noticed her friends and fellow TikTokers playing around with the contents of their closets during quarantine, and showing them off on social media.

Fashion industry folks predict that once more Americans are vaccinated and summer weather arrives in more places, there’ll be a renaissance for the clothes we wished we could have worn over the past year. “I feel like there’ll be this Roaring ’20s effect if we have a somewhat sane, normal summer,” says Kari Fry, founder of the LA-based small-batch label Subsurface. You can see it in the biggest trends for spring and summer, she says: psychedelic prints, fun pants, and slinky cut-outs.

Subsurface makes its own nod to the low-rise Y2K days in the form of the Hostess Pant, which cheekily references the “whale tail” phenomenon of the late ’90s and early aughts. Fry was inspired by Gillian Anderson’s iconic look at the 2001 Vanity Fair Oscars party, but notes that her version is still high-rise in the front, creating a hybrid of modern and vintage This, ultimately, is why Fry too expects that the 2020s version of low-rise isn’t going to be as terrifying as the first time around.

Jeans Sew-Along: Choose a size and test for fit

Today is the second day of our jeans project — we’ve selected materials, pre-washed our fabric and now we are ready to choose a size and get fitting!

Both the Quadra Jeans and Fulford Jeans instruction booklets include a handy page detailing how to choose your size. Let’s walk through this visually. First, have a look at the page below (or, for a higher resolution and larger text, look in your instruction booklet) and then we will look at photos of Matt measuring himself.

How to choose your size

You will notice that we need five main measurements. There are other measurements included in the garment measurement chart but these five are the ones that most significantly effect the fit of the jeans. Begin by measuring the man’s waist circumference:

mensjeanssewalong-1

Make sure the waistband is at his narrowest point, or if, like many men, his narrowest point is no longer at his waist, circle the tape measure at approximately naval level. When you purchase jeans in the store they will be listed using this waist measurement size. As we will soon discover, a size 30 jean does not mean that the jean waistband actually has a circumference of 30″! I’ll show you why in a moment.

Record the waist measurement in the chart within your instruction booklet. Now lets move on to measuring the hips:

mensjeanssewalong-2

Circle the tape measure around the widest point of the hips and seat. This location can vary for men depending on the shape of their hips and bottom. Again, make sure the tape measure is horizontal. Record this measurement in your instruction booklet as well.

Now that we’ve collected both body measurements, let’s analyse which pattern size the man might match. We will then proceed to collecting garment measurements to firm up our decision.

Matt’s measurements are:

I plan to sew him the Quadra Jeans and so below you will find the Quadra Jeans measurement charts:

Measurements

The size 30 body measurement chart lists a hip measurement of 37″ so Matt is a fairly close match to the size 30 but I might consider grading between sizes depending on how the garment measurements match the size 30 as well.

Let’s move on to garment measurements so we can make our decision. these measurements are based on the actual finished jeans and not on the body that fits into them. To measure the inseam, you need to measure from the crotch seam all the way down to the hem with all wrinkles removed from the jeans:

mensjeanssewalong-5

It is more accurate to do this when the jeans are off of the man and laid flat on the floor but it is important to see the jeans on the man too. This is because, regardless of the man’s preferred fit of jeans, the fit on their body can differ greatly from man to man: Some men let their jeans sit low on their hips and others pull them up high. Some men like a hem to touch the ground and others like their jeans quite a bit shorter. Does the man wear his jeans so there is a lot of empty room between the jean crotch and his body (wearing ease)? The tape measure should not push up into the crotch when measuring but instead simply measure to the end of the seam. Record this measurement.

Matt’s inseam measured about 30″ so he may need a tiny bit of length taken off the Quadra size 30 (which have an inseam of 30 3/4″). Since it is only small difference and since the jeans he was wearing are very slim fitting and short legged, I think I would cut out the Quadras as they are and adjust the hem when I baste the pieces together (instead of shortening at the lengthen/shorten line). If the difference were greater (3-5″ or so), taking some length off from the line we provide on the pattern would allow you to preserve the shape of legs (important for the tapered Quadras, not as important for the straight Fulfords!). We have a tutorial on how to lengthen or shorten a pattern piece on our website.

Now we will measure the rise of the jeans to determine where the waistband will sit on the man’s body. For this garment measurement, you will need to measure the garment on the man. It helps if the man is wearing jeans/pants with a rise that he really likes when you take this measurement so you can compare his ideal fit to the fit of our pattern.

mensjeanssewalong-3

Have a look at the Rise measurement given under the size that most closely matches the man’s waist and hips. Measure from the crotch of the jeans (again, where the jeans naturally sit away from the body), up to that number (which is the bottom of the jeans waistband). The jeans Matt wore had a rise of 8 1/2″. This is a very close match for the size 30 Quadra Jeans which feature a rise of 8 3/8″. This is encouraging news that indicates Matt will probably like the fit of the Quadras! Place a pin or chalk mark or tie a string around the man at the height of the Fulford or Quadra rise to allow you to take the last measurement — the Garment Waistband.

mensjeanssewalong-4

Circle the tape measure around the man exactly where you placed your Rise marking. The tape measure should only be wrapped as snug as the man likes his waistband to fit. If he likes a loose waistband that he cinches in with a belt, you might need to wrap it a bit looser than you usually do. If he prefers to wear jeans without a belt, you might need to wrap the tape more snug to ensure the jeans will stay up unassisted.

Matt’s Garment Waistband measurement is 34 1/2″ which is a close match to the size 30 Quadra Jeans (which have a garment waistband of 34 1/4″). Now you can see why the finished jeans will not have anywhere near a 30″ waist! They will be 4 1/4″ larger than that!

Now it’s time to pick your size! Keep in mind the following:

  • It is more important to match the garment Waistband measurement to our size chart than it is to match the body Waist measurement. the jeans will not be worn at the body’s natural waistline so it doesn’t matter very much if that measurement is larger or smaller than the size chart due to a belly or an exceptionally tapered waist.
  • Choose a size that most closely matches the man’s hips and the garment waistband. Know that you may need to adjust the length of the jeans if the inseam measurement does not match your chosen size.
  • If the man’s Garment Waistband measures between two sizes, you will likely have a better fit if you size down. You will still have plenty of room within the 5/8″ seam allowances to let out the waistband slightly if he needs a little more room.

Now that you’ve selected the closest size, you have three choices to test and adjust the fit as detailed below. Alternatively, you can just sew them up and hope for the best. but I highly recommend taking the time to do one of these options since all of that topstitching makes it difficult to adjust the fit of the hips, legs and seat seam once the jeans are finished. The waist can easily be taken in or let out though due to our two piece waistband (more on that later!).

Here are three fitting options:

  1. Adjust the paper pattern: Make adjustments to the paper pattern before cutting into fabric to suit the man’s inseam length and leg width preferences. This is a good option if tiny changes are necessary but I would not recommend performing too many changes before actually trying something on the man! Perhaps just grade between sizes at the hips or add/remove a bit of length.
  2. Mock up with different fabric: Cut out the pattern as is using a cheap mock up fabric (any stiff medium weight woven will do!). You can then baste together the pieces quickly and try them on the man so that you can adjust the shape of the lengths, length of the legs, and shape of the seat seam while the mock up is on his body. Transfer the changes to the pattern pieces and then cut into your real fabric. This is a good option if the man’s measurements fall across several sizes on our measurement chart and lots of changes will likely need to be made. This allows you to accurately see the fit on the man without any risk of ruining your fabric.
  3. Baste together the denim: Choose the size that is the most likely match and cut out the jeans in your actual fashion fabric. Baste together the pieces to try on the man. The pattern includes 5/8″ seam allowances so it allows you quite a bit of room to play with the shape of the seat seam, the curve of the hips, and the width of the legs. This is a good option if only one measurement differs from our size chart — perhaps the man’s hips are quite a bit narrower than our proportions so you will need to take in the jeans along the side seams.

I usually choose option three when sewing our jeans patterns. The last time I did this I snapped a few photos so you could see that I baste together at a later point in the sewing process than you might expect!

You can baste all the pieces together before you begin to sew (as I suggest in the instruction booklet), or, if you feel you will likely only need to tweak the fit in the hips a little and test to see if the waistband feels good on the wearer, you could do what I’ve done here.

I sew all the jeans details (back pockets, front pockets, yoke), sew the inseams and then stop. I then proceed with the next stage of the sewing process (side seams) with a long basting stitch and the fabric with wrong sides together:

mensjeanssewalong-1

I baste the seat seam as well (I did it right sides together in the photo below but I’d actually recommend wrong sides together so that the seam allowances are easier to see and manipulate when the garment is tried on):

mensjeanssewalong-3

The fly is left open and unfinished. To ensure the waistband can be sewn on accurately I press under the seam allowances. The right side, when the pants are worn, has a 1/2″ seam allowance and the left side, when the pants are worn has a 5/8″ seam allowance. In the photo below, the allowance on the left will be folded under 1/2″ and the allowance on the right will be folded under 5/8″.

mensjeanssewalong-4

Lastly, I temporarily attach the waistband. I carefully mark the buttonhole and button and then simply stitch together along the center back seam and then apply it to the jeans. The button marking lines up with the folded edge of the fly and the buttonhole should be set 1/2″ in from the folded edge of the fly.

mensjeanssewalong-5

Try the jeans on the wearer and pin or clip them closed so that the button and buttonhole marking overlap. This will give you an accurate feel for how the finished waistband will fit despite having no fly extension, zipper shield or button to do up! Pinch and pin any areas that need taking in or letting out. be careful to avoid over-fitting as the man still needs ease to sit and bend his legs!

If you have questions about fitting your jeans, please email me at info@threadtheory.ca or comment. You can also join our Facebook community where many engaged menswear sewists are quick to offer advice the moment you post!

See you in a couple of days for our next sew-along post! We will setting up our machines and sewing the patch pockets.

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