Believe me, as someone who came of age during the supertight reign of Fashion Nova and skinny jeans, I wanted to be a wide-leg pant person. Who doesn’t love the comfort of a loose fit? Or the relief of a conformist uniform? According to mass-market denim sales, the “roomier new silhouette” finally dethroned the skinny jean back in 2021, toppling their 15-year millennial-helmed reign. A new regime is fine. But wide pants are getting too wide. The city streets are flanked with flappy pants as far as the eye can see. This much flare isn’t flattering on anyone. This big is bad. How wide can we go before the pants are wearing us?
Looking back, the return of the wide-leg has been a long time coming. It crept up on us during the heyday of the skinny jean. First came ugly sailor pants, high-waisted canvas trousers that cut off awkwardly above the ankle. The cropped flare made a comeback, as did slouchy ravers. Now we’re seeing the return of the parachute pants from the ’80s and ’90s, along with their cargo cousins. They’re too big, they’re too wide, and — unlike sailor pants — now they’re even too long. (The latest look is to leave your pants big and baggy at the bottom, forgoing a tailor — the logical culmination of the big pants trend.)
I’m not a skinny-jean purist, and this is by no means some millennial-versus-zoomer Jean Wars screed. I’m well aware of the myriad benefits this au courant pant offers. They can, when the width is within reason, look effortlessly cool. They’re comfortable and spacious. Linen ones are breezy in the disgusting humidity of the summer months; sweatpants make for sensible airport looks; wide jeans can function as either office garb or as a balance for the very tiniest crop tops. All I’m saying is there’s a hem circumference at which the pants lose their slouchy glory and tip over into sheer ridiculousness, transforming the wearer into two giant Swiffers for the city floor. Some sort of structural limit must be imposed; at the very least, a taper. Boyfriend jeans are fine. I have no beef with a slightly baggy cargo pant. But JNCO jeans make human beings look like isosceles triangles.
You may come at me with valid gripes about how skinny jeans are actually restrictive and awful. I counter: What if a cockroach crawled up your baggy pant leg? You may accuse me of making a fuss because I look bad in parachute pants, and I concur. At 5’0”, I look a little like Groot, or three tubes sewn together. I keep rummaging through the pants sections of my favorite stores for skinny jeans — they lengthen the leg! — only to be met with variations of an ever-widening parachute.
Traditionally millennial brands have tried to ease me in. During the wide-leg coup of 2021, the Washington Post reported that Madewell introduced the “Slim Boyjean” as a transitional style to “help customers who are ready to bid adieu to the skinny leg,” like a sartorial nicotine patch for the outmoded. (Big brands didn’t expect this to work for everyone. Forever 21’s then-CEO told the Post that skinny styles weren’t “totally dead,” kept alive by “late adopters” while “fashionistas” opted for flare styles and mom jeans.) Other mall brands jumped off the deep end. PacSun labels its skinny jean as a “vintage” offering while spotlighting an array of wide-legs that include everything from “’90s boyfriend” to “baggy and wide.” In case regular-degular wide-leg jeans aren’t enough, American Eagle carries an “ultrawide” option. Even Aeropostale peddles “wide leg trousers” and ”baggy parachute pants” alongside — bless them — a pathetic smattering of joggers and jeggings. Meanwhile Everlane, a longstanding millennial staple, now pushes a cargo agenda. Frankly, I’m exhausted. Is nowhere safe — must the wide-leggers take it all?
I’m no maverick. I’ve purchased my fair share of slightly wide-leg pants, though I usually never end up wearing them. The other day, however, I toughed it out, debuting some black straight-leg slacks at a brunch with friends. They complimented my vibe shift, used to seeing me only in dresses or “tight tops with tight jeans.” But walking back to my apartment, a slight breeze catching in my wide legs, the glow soon wore off. Maybe getting subsumed into the widening sinkhole of linen is inevitable. But I don’t know where my legs begin and end outside of some constriction. The loose fits promised freedom, but they haven’t freed me — they’ve unmoored me, setting me adrift in the sea of giant pants and tiny tops. I want to stop floating. I want the security of a tight fit, like a dog in need of a thunder shirt. I want my calves insulated, my ankles snugly contained in a city overrun by rats. A little restriction shapes me; at the very least, it shapes my thighs. It shouldn’t be too much for ask for.