Emer McLysaght: We cannot accept a return to street-sweeping jeans

Nineties fashion trends are making me feel ancient and sick

A few weeks ago Rihanna announced her pregnancy to the world. The singer's baby with rapper A$AP Rocky is as important to the entertainment world as a Kate and William baby is to the royal world and the pregnancy announcement was fittingly hysterical and classy in equal measure. There was no ultrasound picture posted to Instagram or posed portrait wearing beige near some trees.

Instead Rihanna orchestrated a paparazzi-style photoshoot on the streets of New York which might have looked like she was out caught unawares while out for a stroll were it not for the fact she was wearing a giant pink coat purposefully unbuttoned to reveal her bare baby bump, gently framed by long necklaces and pendants. The pictures were clever and tongue in cheek and beautiful and travelled around social media at lightning speed, but all I could think about was her jeans.

Standing on a broken paving stone might release a spurt of God knows what into your hems

Rihanna’s jeans, specifically the ends of her jeans, took me down in a devastating one-two: a punch to the guts and then a swift uppercut to my jaw. She was voluntarily wearing a pair of street juice jeans which were both comically long so that they swept the ground as she walked and purposefully slit at the sides to make them flap and drag even more. I call them “street juice jeans” because I remember well when I used to wear similar items myself and a rainy day meant that your trousers soaked up any fluid you walked through.

Standing on a broken paving stone might release a spurt of God knows what into your hems, which would then dry into a crispy and crunchy shroud of disgusting mystery around your ankles and calves. It was the 1990s and all we wanted was for our jeans to sit perfectly over our Adidas Sambas or Doc Martins the way they did in magazines or music videos. Access to decent clothes was extremely limited though so you had to make do with what you had: a pair of square Lee Jeans cajoled out of your mother in Arnotts and then smuggled into the bathroom with a scissors the second you got home.


I vividly remember sewing triangles of fabric into the ends of new jeans to attempt to make the perfect flare or cutting slits up both sides so that they flapped hilariously as I walked. The trend carried on into the 2000s with huge skater jeans and more and more fabric to soak up whatever was lurking on Westmoreland Street or the Quays.

Now they're making jeans that are intentionally slit and comically long and I finally understand how my parents felt when 1970's flares had their first resurrection when I was a teenager. I feel ancient. Nineties Fashion is now considered bona fide vintage because it's more than twenty years old. I saw a Cedarwood State sweatshirt from Penneys being sold as "vintage" online the other day and second-hand shops are flooded with classic Miss Selfridge tshirts and check shirts.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and is so often connected to clothes and sounds and trends and it’s unsettling to see items associated with a rose-tinted past crashing into a more difficult present. Nineties fashion, for me, is closely tied to a time of complete freedom in terms of social media and self-consciousness. I feel a protectiveness over it, and want to say “no, you don’t understand what it was like when we wore those things for the first time. It was so different. It was OURS.” This sentiment is of course ridiculous, because there’s no ownership over a jeans trend or a retro look or what comes and goes in fashion but still that’s what nostalgia can feel like: a jealous sense of ownership over a time that’s slipping further and further away. Of course, it’s not helped by the fact that 1990 still feels like 10 years ago.

I like to horrify myself by thinking about how "turn of the century" means something completely different to a twenty-year-old today.

Maybe it's having that colossal marker of the turn of the millennium on New Year's Eve 1999 that distorts time, and makes the return of a fashion trend from thirty years ago feel like an affront to my ageing self, because surely I was just wearing a self-concocted version of Rihanna's jeans last week? I like to horrify myself by thinking about how "turn of the century" means something completely different to a 22-year-old today. To me it means Ford Model Ts and women in boned corsets. To them it's giant belts, low-rise jeans, 9-11 and Christina Aguilera's version of Lady Marmalade.

It’s just extremely middle-aged, isn’t it? Tutting at what young ones are wearing (although Rihanna was born in 1988 and should know better than The Jeans, in my opinion) and remembering what it was like in my day when we were practically forced to sweep the streets with our Susst flares. We had no choice because skinny jeans were not invented yet. An intentional return to soaking up street juice is just downright irresponsible.