Get ready to air out your hip bones, people! Well, maybe—and only if you want to. The return of low-rise jeans has been circling for some time now, and making a full-fledged landing in mass retailers seems more a matter of “when” than “if.” Because we all know how the fashion industry loves a comeback. (See: Tiny sunglasses! Choker necklaces! Bike shorts!) So it shouldn’t be long now before low-rise jeans take off among the Hailey Biebers of the world.
While most of those who lived through this trend the first time around are recoiling in horror, there is a small diehard fan base who are likely to rejoice. The style has long been on brand for Jennifer Aniston, for example. (She looked undeniably chic in a slim black pair she wore late last year.) And she’s not the only one. “I’m still pretending to be a teenager from the early aughts,” said director/actor Olivia Wilde in a recent interview with InStyle magazine. “My most comfortable state is when I’m in low-rise jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt. In that, I’m unstoppable.” To this I cannot relate—it’s high-rise fits that deliver the contouring and elongation that make me feel good about my curves. Wilde goes on to say that she finds high-rise jeans restrictive on her midsection, which is fair. Does anyone rush home at the end of the day to throw on a tight-fitting navel-grazing waistband? No. But I prefer restricted yet covered to the alternative: free yet exposed. A youth spent in low-rise jeans made me believe that exposed butt cracks are par for the course. However, that risky business wasn’t empowering or comfortable then, and it won’t be a second time around either. Plus, the low-rise silhouette works against a common basic style objective: to look taller. And, most importantly, the last time the world dived into low-rise jeans the result was kind of a hot mess. Let’s review, shall we?
When low-rise jeans strutted into the spotlight, it was thanks to boundary-pushing British designer Alexander McQueen: He included a pair of low-slung pants in one of his early-’90s shows and continued to design waistbands that hovered at the hips late into the decade. The trickle-down effect from the runways developed into a raging flood by the early aughts as the style was translated into an everywoman version. Beginning in 2001, low-rise jeans became a must-have among pop stars and ingenues. As far as fashion goes, that timeframe can accurately be described as a competition to see how low (cut) one could go. Standout contenders included Britney Spears, the members of Destiny’s Child, Paris Hilton and then-newcomer Keira Knightley.
The defining jeans of the era were snug-fitting and sported an extremely abbreviated rise—mere inches of coverage above the crotch was de rigueur. And there were some key supporting details that made the style a lot of look—aka the reasons why many would like to leave it in the past. Let’s start with the questionable preference for creative closures. An exposed micro zipper or three-button fly? That was hot. Lace-up ties? Even hotter. Meanwhile, the omnipresent flared-leg silhouette was an open invitation for unexpected embellishment. Distressed details and topstitch seams marked the tame end of the scale, and flashy bedazzled patterns were at the other. Oh, and there were So. Many. Belts. In part worn for function, decorative and/or oversize belts were also a fashion must-have. Lastly, jeans of the early 2000s were almost exclusively paired with an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny top. Baby tees (i.e., shrunken T-shirts designed for full-grown women) were a go-to, but bikini tops, bustiers and ribcage-skimming crop tops were also trending. The combo, which lead to a varying amount of bare skin being exposed at all times, was inescapable and is now, in retrospect, a major contributing cringe factor.
By 2010, low-rise mania had died down and been firmly replaced by a new must-have: mid-rise skinny jeans. Fast-forward another 10 years to today, and the high-rise cut, with a waistband that hits at or near your navel, has become a wardrobe staple. Styles have expanded into straight- and wide-leg cuts with waistbands heading even further north. A sign of the times (and consumer preference), Levi’s introduced its Ribcage jeans, which have a super-high rise of a full 12 inches, last year. An even higher cut will debut this season. But what goes up must come down, which means the fashion pendulum has no choice but to swing in the opposite direction. TBH, it’s already happening, with several major labels having served an amuse-bouche on the runways.
For spring/summer ’18 and ’19, respectively, Tom Ford and Chanel endorsed the shift by peppering shows with reinterpretations of low-rise fits. Aussie-based social-media brand I Am Gia made a mark with hip-bone revealing designs, including low-rise jeans complete with a side cut-out and asymmetrical buttons, sent down its resort 2019 runway. Around the same time, style arbiters such as Bella Hadid and Victoria Beckham gave low-rise styles a test run.
But chances are high that more stars will dip it low in 2020, especially with the latest notable versions from Versace, Balmain and Isabel Marant. Versace recently proposed an exposed-faux-thong-strap situation (thanks but no thanks) while the other two labels created an option that approaches easy-to-wear. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing and Marant shared a specific denim vision: a reasonable-length fly, a relaxed fit that’s slightly tapered with cuffs rolled above the ankles and a cut that hangs loosely from hips. The laid-back vibe is undeniably cool, a style Wilde could pull off effortlessly—cool enough, even, to make me look past the crop tops the runway looks were styled with and pause. I know I don’t want anything to do with the low-rise jeans of my youth…but do I want the 2020 low-rise jeans? I’m not convinced yet (because remember the butt cracks?). And if it comes to me being a high-rise-lovin’ girl living in a low-rise-jeans world, that’s just fine—I know I won’t be alone.
Celebs in low-rise jeans throughout the years
Destiny’s Child, 2001
The members of Destiny’s Child dressed up the popular denim style with alllll the rhinestones.