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Check out how high can you rise with high waisted fashion

August 16, 2018

Learn how the rise of the humble mom jeans, from lowly work-clothes stature to a place of prominence in high waisted fashion, resulted into a high rise jeans revolution


The birth of mom jeans was a direct result of practicality during the WWII era. But as clothing manufacturers saw the mass appeal those humble high waisted pants generated, they brought newer designs into the market. Skinny, Boyfriend, Girlfriend or Dad jeans – they all owe moms a debt of gratitude!

High waisted fashion 101

High rise jeans initially really came about as a result of “necessity” as opposed to fashion. Back in the late 1930s, during the Second World War, more and more women were drafted into the war effort. They worked in fields and on factory floors, usually wearing high waisted clothing – because it was both practical and comfortable.


Check out how high can you rise with high waisted fashion

Levis high waisted buckle-back jeans

Levi Strauss

In the 1940’s Levi’s, the famous jeans manufacturer, came out with a pair of high rise jeans that rode the bandwagon of then prevalent trends. Women were very determined to work shoulder-to-shoulder in the rough factory and field environment. Yet, they needed high waisted clothing to “protect” their modesty as bent down to do their work.


The answer to this dilemma? The ruggedness of Levi’s fabric and the reticence of the design of his high rise jeans. When both aspects came together, they offered a perfect breeding ground for the popularity of high waisted fashion. In many ways, the mom jeans could be credited for the slew of high rise designs that jeans manufacturers rolled out starting in the 1970s.


Today, women of all shapes and sizes are embracing high waisted fashion. Full-figured women, like Khloe Kardashian, that have a perfect hour-glass figure, have become poster-girls for high rise jeans styling 101. At Coachella 2018, celebrities like Joan Small, Gigi Hadid and Hailey Baldwin choose Boyfriend-cut high rise jeans to show off their trim figures.  Others, like Shay Mitchel and Iggy Azalea wore high waist jeans – but preferred to show case their high waisted fashion in shorts!

Young woman modelling a pair of denim jeans and a checked shirt, 1952

Young woman modelling a pair of denim jeans and a checked shirt, 1952

Moms in jeans

One of the first things that one looks for in a pair of jeans, is it’s rise. And back in the 1990s, jeans lovers – especially middle-aged women – preferred to wear high waisted jeans. But “mom jeans” really didn’t start out as a jean’s designers conscious effort to put moms into jeans. While the term “mom jeans” evolved later on, back in the 90s it was just a fashion that referred to loose-fitting high waist jeans. It was an effort to offer women – young, middle-aged, old – a choice to wear a piece of comfortable, stylish, rugged, work-ready trouser.


These jeans often had excess material around the legs and in the crotch area – giving it a rather “modest” look. High rise jeans were typically worn higher than a woman’s belly button, and they appeared to be loose-fitting. Typically, because of the excessive use of fabric in “strategic” places, “mom jeans” (as they came to be known later) made a woman’s posterior look larger than it was!


Moms in high waisted jeans were seen everywhere – at shopping malls, in cinemas, in playgrounds and dropping and picking up the kids to/from school. You could see young, middle-aged and older ladies – even those that weren’t mom’s – wearing high waist jeans.  And that’s why it got named after moms!


Check out how high can you rise with high waisted fashion

Skinny jeans

High waisted – Skinnier-fit

The late 90s saw a trend towards skinnier-fit and more form-fitting jeans. While popular jeans manufacturers like Levies and Wrangler produced their unique versions of tight-fit high rise jeans, the previous generation still patronized and loved their high waisted fashion.  So, when a younger generation from the 2000’s went jeans shopping, they typically referred to the less body-hugging versions as “mom jeans” – something typically favoured by their moms (or a generation earlier!).


Check out how high can you rise with high waisted fashion

Zoot Suits, 1946

How high does high waisted fashion go?

Well, the correct answer to that question might be: It depends!

Back in the 1940s, even as high waist jeans were just a figment of Levies’ imagination, high waisted fashion was in vogue – albeit in an un-jeans-like way. Many African-Americans and immigrant Mexicans (both men and women – called Pachuco’s and Pachuca’s respectively) in the United States wore Zoot Suits. These high waisted pants were cuffed at the ankles, but sometimes rode as high as the chest!


Many considered this high waisted fashion an affront, especially in light of the lean times during the war. However, with fabric-austerity forced onto the broader population, even fashion designers dropped their high waisted designs a notch. The evolution of the mom jeans predecessor – the working woman’s baggy jeans worn high on the waist – came about as a result of rethinking jeans design in times of austerity.


Two members of the Women's Royal Naval Service checking the cockpit equipment in a Vought Chesapeake Mk.I aircraft at Royal Naval Air Station Stretton (HMS Blackcap) in Cheshire, 4 March 1943

Vought Chesapeake at RNAS Stretton, 1943

How high

Today, high waisted garments, both jeans and dress trousers, are measured by how high they rise above the hips. Typically, these days high waist jeans are designed to rest higher than the hips of the wearer. Often, women sporting mom jeans can be seen wearing them about 3-inches (approximately 8 centimetres) above their navels.


A popular trend is to have skinny high rise jeans held up with suspenders, and top off that look with a cropped-top shirt or t-shirt. If a woman has navel rings to show off, she may even wear her high waisted trousers or jeans slightly below the belly-button, but it will still ride much higher (compared to traditional-fit garments) on her hips.


High waisted - The Uptones, 1986

The Uptones, 1986

High waisted – A rising comeback

In the 80s and 90s, the more “modern” version of high waisted jeans were all the rage. This style of mom jeans received an almost cult-like following, when audience’s worldwide saw Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon wear them in their block-buster movie Thelma and Louise. High waist jeans also became a young crowd pleaser, thanks to “Beverly Hills, 90210”.  But like all things high waisted – what goes up much come down – the fad soon faded.

High waisted – High demand

But the demand for things worn high on the waist was so great, that Levi Strauss re-invented it in its 2016 Spring collection. This new look took the mom jeans to a whole new level. But while the 2016 evolution of this popular design evolved from the mom jeans, the ever-popular predecessor high rise jeans are still making headlines in the news today. In fact, many a fashion designer’s Spring-Summer collections have featured high waisted fashion pieces that will likely soon be in every woman’s wardrobes. Such is the mass-appeal of high rise jeans and other high-rise trousers.


High waisted - Barack Obama 2009 MLB All Star Game first pitch

Barack Obama 2009 MLB All Star Game first pitch

High waisted – Celebrities

Contemporary celebrities are popping up all over the place, wearing their high waist jeans while out and about.  Gal Gadot (star of Wonder Woman), Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Roberts, were all seen around town sporting high waisted jeans. All these three ladies have their own colour preferences too – ranging from dark indigo and soft white, to mid blue and pitch black.


But even powerful figures like President Obama were fans of high rise jeans. The world saw the most powerful figure on the planet don on a pair of mom jeans, as he threw the first pitch at an All-Star MLB game in 2009. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) – the first lady intervened and permanently “retired” that piece of high waisted fashion from the Presidents’ wardrobe!


So, while the “really high” high rise jeans of the 1940s might be still seen in vintage stores and Thrift shops, you can see contemporary versions of those high waist jeans being worn by people in every walk of life today.

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