Opinion: These are the jeans women REALLY need

But, according to news reports, there’s a new trend underway toward a looser-fitting, higher-waisted, roomier style. I’ll just say it: “mom jeans.”

I doubt that anything less dramatic than a horrendous pandemic, which has brought unprecedented illness and death, job losses and a total upending of social and professional lives, could have begun to dislodge society’s expectations for the way women turn themselves out — that is, the idea that we should diet and doll ourselves up in order to present as slim and shapely for the judgment of others.

Yet, “we’re definitely seeing a lot of uptake on these looser fits,” the chief executive of Levi’s told the New York Times, and Madewell shoppers, too, are looking for “looser and more comfortable.” We should insist upon carrying this trend through to its logical conclusion: creating a culture in which we stop judging women based on their appearances rather than their contributions to the world.
It’s happening already. While many of us have been home gaining weight and working in our pajamas, it’s become more socially acceptable to turn the camera on for remote meetings (or dart out, masked, to the grocery store) without getting all dressed up.
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This often means wearing loose jeans, neat and presentable — and far more comfortable, casual and forgiving than skinny jeans. While this pandemic-era change in expectations is true for people of all genders (men’s baggy jeans are also selling well) it is especially liberating for women, for two reasons.

First, women have always been expected to go to far greater lengths than men to make ourselves attractive for others — particularly for the “male gaze.” Karl Stefanovic, co-host of Australia’s Today show, told an Australian newspaper a few years ago that he wore the same suit on air every day for an entire year. The only reason people noticed is because he revealed that he had done so. By contrast, Stefanovic said, decrying the double standard, a woman in his role would be publicly attacked if she merely wore the wrong color: “I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humor — on how I do my job, basically.”
And these double standards don’t just apply to women in public life. Over the course of her lifetime, the average woman spends over $250,000 more than the average man on products to improve her appearance, according to a 2017 Groupon study. That’s not to mention all the time we spend — call it opportunity cost — picking out clothes, styling our hair and applying our makeup (time-suck realities thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic), while our male counterparts can get away with rolling out of bed and throwing on yesterday’s clothes.

Second, skinny jeans conform to and reveal the shape of a woman’s body, and thus make it easier to, well, assess it. Loose-fitting jeans make that harder to do. This distinction is obvious and important, because it’s long past time for anyone who views a woman’s body to believe it to be his or her right to weigh in on how it looks.

In her memoir, “Recollections of my Nonexistence,” feminist writer Rebecca Solnit noted that, when you are a woman, “everyone is free to judge you.” And it’s almost impossible to live up to our society’s exacting standards for how a woman should appear. “A woman exists in a perpetual state of wrongness,” Solnit wrote, “and the only way to triumph is to refuse the terms by which this is so.”

For just one recent example, consider the way first lady Jill Biden’s decision to wear black hosiery that many described as fishnet stockings earlier this month caused such a rush to judgment on social media that, as Glamour facetiously reported, “Twitter broke.”

But for this homebound trend to really take hold more broadly, it has to extend beyond jeans and back into the office. We all need to think more carefully about how we think a woman needs to present herself to appear successful at work.

Here is my proposal for a place to start: when we all head back to our brick and mortar workplaces, let’s leave behind the objects of our sartorial torture. Do not dig out those high heels that make simply walking through the world so precarious, or the Spanx and control-top pantyhose that crush our stomachs at the expense of our comfort. What about flowing skirts instead of the pencil kind, baggy tailored pants and sometimes even mom jeans?

Let’s dress for ourselves rather than for others — and, if we all start doing so, it will become the norm.

It’s unfortunate that it’s taken such a seismic event to make this happen, but the embrace of jeans that are less restrictive, less glam and less revealing is a significant step toward relaxing our society’s impossible expectations of women.

We should all keep the trend en vogue.

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