Why the f*ck are low rise jeans back

Take a deep breath –  the jeans of your nightmares are back.

‘Controversial’ is a word that’s flung around a lot these days. Social media has given the argumentative a platform to debate everything from politics to pineapple on pizza, 24/7. But when the first few fashionistas shared their plans to ditch their high-waisted jeans last year, there was a bigger influx in online bickering than I’d seen any recent election garner. Try not to panic, because whether you love them or hate them, low rise jeans are back.

Thanks to the increasing speeds of trend cycles, you probably remember seeing (or even wearing) them the first time round. While ‘hip huggers’ have been around since the 60’s, it was the late 90’s and early 00’s when low rise jeans as we know them soared into popularity. Although the incredibly low cuts featured in Alexander McQueen’s 1999 collection of ‘bumster’ jeans were outlandish, they spurred on a low-waisted revolution, which inspired everyone from uni students to Kiera Knightly to sport whale tails.

Keira Knightly

It’s perhaps no surprise that low waisted denim is back en-vogue. Their return is just the latest export of Y2K fashion nostalgia, coming in closely behind velour tracksuits and butterfly clipped up-does. In 2021, any Instagram influencer worth their space on your explore page posted at least one all pink, tiny-sunglasses adorned outfit with a Paris Hilton quote for a caption. By 2022 every girl you know IRL has a knock off Jean Paul Gautier newspaper print top, and is completing the Y2K look with chunky sandals. What I’m saying is that, to no-one’s surprise, influences do in fact influence. And given that social media is full of throw-back Gwen Stefani outfit recreations, I have an unfortunate prophesy to bestow – low waisted jeans are about to be the new normal.

So – why is the look so controversial? Well, for one, they don’t leave much to the imagination. Far from the comfortable stomach shield afforded by their predecessors, high-waisted jeans, the low waisted look is all about showcasing your entire torso. And, looking at the style icons who wore them a few decades, you might have already noticed they’ve all got one thing in common: thinness. Here we find our first issue with the contemptuous trouser; its keen ability to glamourise unrealistic beauty standards.

As any girl old enough to absorb adverts in the noughties will tell you, skinniness was the definitive body-goal back then. Low waisted jeans were just one way to showcase your toned abdominal and (lack of) belly. The 90’s and 00’s heroin chic look might seem lightyears away today, after a decade of Kardashians, BBLs and ‘slim-thick’ adoration. But as these trends circle back into the mainstream, so to the trendy bodies that wore them. As Anne Helen Peterson wrote on her substack, women are not bothered about the return of ‘the f*cking jeans AS JEANS, and I wish people could actually understand that. It was about the jeans on our bodies’.

Lowrise Jeans

There is, however, another slightly less downright depressing element to the controversy surrounding low waist jeans. Namely; how weirdly people are wearing them this time around. While the 00’s saw Brittany Spears in cutesy tank tops, 2022’s fashionistas are pairing the jeans with enormous Afghan jackets and trainers so ugly even your dad wouldn’t wear them. Julia Fox’s recent low waisted look reigns supreme in this category, featuring a black leather V-waist. The outfit quickly went viral, and not because of its popularity. Tongue firmly in cheek, Fox ‘apologised’ some days after, saying ‘I just wanna sincerely apologise for having figured out that there’s more to life than chasing an impossible beauty standard projected onto me by insecure celebrities for the ultimate goal of pleasing men’.

Here is where, against my will, I start to warm to low waisted trousers a little bit. Because, as women like Fox take them to the extreme in 2022, they skip right over sexy and into the uncanny valley of off-putting. They’re weird, and they’re mean to be. And at the very least, you’ve got to agree they’re interesting. And, hey, if you’re not into it, go grab a pair of bootlegged jeans – they’re doubtlessly be the next to resurface.

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Words by Kate Bowie

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