How mom jeans became sexy

Mom jeans, once the subject of a Tina Fey sketch and symbol of a woman’s bodily defeat, have become cool (after a few design tweaks)

It seems highly improbable that much-loved comedy writer, actress and self-described “fashion noncombatant” Tina Fey would coin a fashion term.

To set the scene: it is 2003 and Fey is the head writer for long-running comedy sketch show

Saturday Night Live

. Due to a mishap involving an apartment fire and a last-minute trip to buy some emergency trousers, Fey inadvertently gets a pair of unflattering, high-waisted, stiff denim jeans to wear at the writers’ table. Hilarity ensues, which is probably a normal day for an office staffed by comedians.

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Not long after, the mom jeans sketch airs on SNL featuring Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch. The four are dressed for a spoof ad in the uniform of the American midwestern mom: high-waisted jeans paired with shapeless shirts and jazzy brocade waistcoats. “Cut generously to fit a mom’s body,” a smoothly reassuring voice purrs.

Dratch ecstatically exits her house, fully denimed up, for a hot date with her husband. His facial expression lies somewhere between defeat and revulsion. The voice concludes. “Get her something that says, ‘I’m not a woman any more, I’m a mom.’ ”

In one short minute, Fey has firmly lodged the phrase “mom jeans” into the public consciousness.

Desexualised and dowdified

Fast-forward a decade, and the meaning of mom jeans has shifted. What was once a jocular term for an item of clothing that desexualised a woman, has now, very improbably, become sexy. Mom jeans are available everywhere from Alexander Wang to Topshop, and sales show no sign of slowing.

These aren’t jeans that your mother would wear today (she’s probably more partial to a slim leg or even – horror of horrors – a bootcut), but jeans that she might have worn at least 20 years ago. And yet they are very of-the-moment, and are best worn with ankle-rolled hems and close-fitting tops.

They are not quite universally flattering. The new mom jeans are cut forgivingly high on the waist but made in a rigid, inflexible denim. You might call them stylishly dowdy.

It’s no wonder that perennially cool Swedish girls love them. Swedish brand H&M is doing a roaring trade in mom jeans of all shades and sizes.

Mom jeans join the pantheon of clothes named after personal relationships, including popular “boyfriend jeans” and the slightly less well-known “grandfather shirt”.

They lack the sexy frisson of “boyfriend” jeans, however (the implication there is that you’ve borrowed your boyfriend’s trousers because your own pair has been flung out the window in a fit of passion). That said, the physical differences between the two are minimal: boyfriend jeans sit lower on the hips, but that’s about it.

Terminally unflattering

As with almost all fashion trends, mom jeans best suit the very young, and herein lies the rub.

Mom jeans, once a vaguely offensive symbol of a woman’s bodily defeat, a terminally unflattering garment lazily tossed at women once they had children and were no longer allowed to look sexually accessible, have become the preserve of the very young and – more than likely by merit of their washboard abs – the very childless.

It’s a small if superficial feminist victory: women taking a tool of oppression and making it work for them. There are now mom jeans for every woman. Cuts are slightly more flattering and improvements in fabric technology mean that many denims hold their shape much better than they did in the past.

Gone are the stonewashed mom jeans. In are multiple rips, tears, colours and washes. Wear a simple pair of overdyed indigo jeans with a loose white shirt or a longish tunic for a streamlined, Céline-ish look.

Alternatively, mirror Rihanna with faded, shredded jeans and a contrasting, unapologetically glitzy top. The mom jean has proved itself to be surprisingly versatile, going equally well with trainers, loafers or heels.

Just make sure to leave the jazzy brocade waistcoats at home.