If a modern woman doesn’t have at least three pairs of jeans in her closet, we assume she’s a member of a cult. If a modern woman only has mom jeans in her closet–and not one pair of wide legged jeans or skinny jeans–we assume she hasn’t gone shopping since 1985.
Over the last half-century, jeans—including wide legged jeans—have become such a part of our culture it’s hard to believe there was a time in Western civilization when women weren’t allowed to wear pants let alone jeans. Prior to the mid-1800’s, a woman in pants was considered vulgar (which sounds cool) and, in some cases, a law breaker (which doesn’t sound cool at all.)
I N THE BEGINNING
The skirt only era came to an end around 1850 when the suffragettes (not a girl band) began wearing the “ Bloomer” outfit when marching for the right to vote. At the time, a pair of pants under a dress was as controversial as the pussy hat is today.
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In 1911, pants went from a political statement to a fashion statement, when French designer Paul Poiret introduced his female customers to an early form of cultural appropriation called the harem pant. Had Poiret known what MC Hammer would do to his creation 79 years later, he may have sent a different design down the runway.
THE ROARING TWENTIES
Ten years later, pants on women were still not accepted by society.
Amelia Earhart wore pants in 1928, but she had the excuse of sitting in a cockpit to cross the Atlantic. However, when meeting dignitaries Earhart still had to shave her legs and put on a dress.
The pants she wore while flying were rather man-ish but practical. Just imagine getting wide legged jeans caught in a rudder pedal.
THE WIDE-LEGGED 30’S
A craze that started in the 20’s, but exploded in the 30’s, was the beach pajama.
This wide legged pant was the precursor to baggy jeans. Worn mostly in resort situations, women were able to feel more relaxed and comfortable compared to their corset days. Plus, who wouldn’t want to wear something called a “beach pajama.”
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THE HIGH WAIST 40’S
The genesis (not the band) of wide legged jeans really began in the 1940’s when women went to work during WWII.
Suddenly, high waist, wide legged pants became popular for both work and play. At the same time, some of the working women began wearing men’s jeans to the jobsite.
So, women were wearing jeans and wide legged pants but not yet wearing wide legged jeans. Think of it as the fashion equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate before they collided to make a Reese’s.
THE TAPERED 50’S
Women’s baggy pants and jeans took the decade off between the 50’s and the 60’s.
In the 1950’s, slacks—as they called them back then—became more form-fitting. Instead of a wide leg, the pants tapered at the ankle or stopped at the knee in the form of capris.
Americans, at the time, were obsessed with all things western. Teenagers specifically, were obsessed—as they always are—with all things capable of pissing off their parents.
As a result, jeans—which fit into both categories—became a staple in every woman and girl’s wardrobe.
Even though jeans had been around for decades, they became an iconic American symbol in the 1950’s…just like Marilyn Monroe.
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THE FLARED 60’S AND 70’S
In the 60’s, bell-bottoms were the wide legged jeans of choice for the counter-culture movement. Both male and female hippies made them part of their uniform.
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As with many fashion trends, what starts out in a sub-culture eventually becomes part of the mainstream and that’s exactly what happened with bell-bottom pants.
In the 1970’s, people who shouldn’t have been wearing bell-bottoms were wearing bell-bottoms.
Suddenly, everybody’s parents looked like Sonny and Cher.
THE SKINNY 80’S
Just like in the 1950’s, wide legged jeans took another decade long sabbatical although, their cousin, the boot cut jean, stuck around.
Sergio Valente, Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, Jordache, Sassoon and Guess were just some of the designer names dominating the 1980’s.
Mom jeans—even though the derogatory label wasn’t used at the time—made their debut.
THE JNCO DECADE
JNCO wide legged jeans are synonymous with the 1990’s.
Just like bell-bottoms, JNCO jeans started in the counter-culture. Unlike bell-bottoms, JNCO jeans are wide from the top not just from the knee and the circumference of the hem can be twice as wide as bell-bottoms.
THE 2000’S AND 2010’S
True Religion and 7 for all Mankind reigned supreme in the denim world by the time the new millennium rolled around. Baggy jeans, once again, found themselves on the fashion sidelines, but it wouldn’t be a lifetime ban.
Over the next decade and a half, the 80’s returned and went away. The 60’s were in and then they were out. The 70’s even made a brief appearance.
Now, the 1990’s are back and JNCO jeans are, once again, in demand.
The new JNCO baggy jeans have a retro feel with a modern sensibility.
Regardless of what style of jeans you prefer, just be happy you live in an era when wearing jeans is fashionable, not illegal. And, let’s thank the suffragettes for bravely wearing bloomers in public so subsequent generations of women could be comfortable and stylish in denim.