Before we all started wearing unflattering sailor pants, the masochistic trouser of choice was the low-rise jean. In 1993, Alexander McQueen sent a pair of ass-baring low-rise jeans called “bumsters” down the runway. It took seven more years for the style to really take over, but eventually they became the pants of choice for 2000s pop stars and Paris Hilton. (Madonna, always ahead of the curve, wore a pair of bumsters for a 1994 ad.)
Once low-rise jeans went out of style, people started to hate them. But while we’re all freaking out about whether bootcut jeans are coming back, let’s take a good hard look at low-rise jeans. Because although I hate to tell you this, they’re also on the rise.
The panic around low-rise jeans has existed for at least a year. It’s a slowly simmering pot of water that, so far, has not quite boiled yet. In August 2017, Man Repeller predicted a low-rise jeans comeback and Buzzfeed responded with a list of all the ways they were uncomfortable and impractical. Surely we have all grown old and wise enough to know that underwear shouldn’t peek out of jeans! Oh, but we had not. In November, Jennifer Lopez wore a pair of pants with a built-in exposed thong. And denim trend forecaster Sam Trotman recently told me he expects low-rise jeans to be a key trend for 2020.
Okay, but why?
Lately, designers have been having a lot of fun with denim. In spring/summer 2017 , we saw clear “jeans,” butt-less jeans, and detachable jorts. But then fashion provocateurs realized they didn’t need to reinvent the jean to get a reaction. Bringing back detested jeans would do just fine. Brands like Linder, IAMGIA, and even Tom Ford have been showing low-rise style on their runways — quietly sowing the seeds for the early 2000s comeback.
Kirk Millar, one half of the design team at Linder NYC, showed low-rise jeans in two collections: S/S 18 and S/S 19. The S/S 18 show opened with a bikini top paired with low-slung jeans with a visible thong-type garment with a high-waisted belt. It was a lot of look. The S/S 19 look was more subdued. It was just a simple pair of straight-leg, low-rise jeans with a plaid visible undergarment of some kind. Millar told the Cut that his interest in low-rise jeans is driven by comfort and his love for ’90s fashion.
“The idea that someone is comfortable in a pair of high-waisted jeans, rather than jeans that kind of sit at the hip, is always too uptight for me,” Millar told the Cut over email. “Most people aren’t comfortable with a band of non stretch material across their waist.”
Both Linder and Trotman seem to agree that low-rise jeans will make the biggest comeback among people who like to wear slightly ironic clothing. Trotman’s exact prediction for 2020 is the rise of ironic 2000s style in general — emphasis on “ironic.” Trotman said he’s seen low-rise jeans worn by Gen-Zers to “to capture the trashy Y2K mood.” Think Bella Hadid in low-rise jeans with a crop-top button-down shirt. He says it’s the same energy that feeds the Instagram accounts @y2ktrashy or @paris2000s . Their thousands of followers prove that there’s an appetite for the excessive, bedazzled, early 2000s fashion.
“Trends are always cyclical and consumers and thought leaders are always in pursuit of the new must-have denim,” Trotman said. “Of course that means going against the grain, so that could mean the return of the low-rise.”
But if you thought that the trend might possibly be contained among the Hadid/Jenners and fashion people, sorry. Levi’s — the ultimate mainstream jean brand — has added low-rise styles to its S/S 19 drop. Jill Guenza — VP of Global Women’s Design at Levi’s confirmed that the brand “love[s] a low rise again,” but that it took a while to get there.
“We re-discovered that low rise jeans can be extremely versatile — after some initial cringing hesitation — and included several variations in our portfolio of new fits for spring ’19,” she said, citing as inspiration “grunge siren Drew Barrymore circa 1994” wearing a pair of oversize, slouchy jeans low on her hips.
So there’s hope. Wearing a low-rise jean doesn’t have to be synonymous with looking like Paris Hilton. You could use Freddie Mercury as your style icon, or even Pinterest mood-board staple Jane Birkin. But get ready, because low-rise jeans are coming back as early as next spring. Don’t worry, you’re going to love them just like we learned to love sailor pants.