What Are Mom Jeans - And Should You Wear Them?

How Mom Jeans Went from Being a Fashion Don't to a Trendy Style

Women wearing pleated blouse and blue jeans
What are mom jeans - and should you wear them?. Christian Vierig/Getty Images

If you haven't heard, "mom jeans" are back -- and they're a trendy denim style to wear now. So what are mom jeans, and how did this denim style for women go from being the butt of jokes, to being one of today's must-have denim styles for trendy young (and young-at-heart) women? We share the history of mom jeans and how they went from being a what not to wear item, to their current fashion trend status.

The 1980s - Mom Jeans are Born

Mom jeans, as we came to know them much later, first appeared on the market in the 1980s, before skinny jeans were a gleam in designers' eyes. This new-at-the-time denim style, which was bought by the thousands, mainly by middle-aged women who saw a chance for comfort, typically featured a solid, light blue wash with no fading or distressing. They were also high-waisted, with a rise that hit well above the belly button, making a woman's bottom appear longer and flatter than it otherwise might.

Without a hint of stretch in their denim, which jeans wearers are so used to today, these jeans didn't do anything to contour the body or hold in wobbly bits. Perhaps worst of all was the extra fabric around the zipper, sometimes with pleating, which magnified any hint of a tummy pooch (a common after-effect of pregnancy). Tapered legs and elastic waistbands were among the other horrors of this jeans style, which women often wore with tucked-in shirts, apparently with no idea of how unsexy they looked. 

The 2000s - Mom Jeans Get Their Name (and Become a National Joke)

We can thank Tina Fey for making most of us aware of what mom jeans are, and how bad they can make some women look. These unflattering denim bottoms were worn by women for years before the comedienne made them famous in a 2003 Saturday Night Live skit. It advertised a fake brand of jeans called Mom Jeans, using the tagline, "For this Mother's Day, don't give Mom that bottle of perfume. Give her something that says, 'I'm not a woman anymore...I'm a mom!'"

Suddenly, the term mom jeans became a part of our pop culture -- and a sense of shame arose around wearing this denim style. We can only imagine how many closet clean-outs that skit inspired, but you couldn't wear mom jeans anymore after Tina, without someone pointing out how outdated and unfashionable they were.

The 2010s - Baggy Jeans Challenge Skinnies

Through the later 1990s and well into this century to date, denim fashion for women has been all about the skinny jean. Then, a few years ago, more relaxed denim styles, such as the updated boyfriend jean, began challenging the fashion supremacy of skin-tight denim. 

This may have been partly due to the unisex "Normcore" fashion movement created by hipsters, who declared it cool to wear average-looking clothing that showed they didn't care about designer fashion trends. Suddenly, unpretentious basics such as baggy jeans and hoodies gained a new fashion cachet among the younger set. 

At the same time, higher-waisted jeans styles, which are flattering to an hourglass body shape, also became a fashion trend, as we saw them worn by curvy celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.

Mom Jeans Become a Trendy Style

Topshop was the first fashion retailer to re-introduce the mom jean as a trendy style for young consumers. Other covetable, youth-focused global brands (including ASOS and H&M) soon followed -- as did their advertising campaigns -- and today, mom jeans are a hot fashion item that even luxury designer brands are including in their denim collections. 

So what does today's mom jean look like? While each pair has slightly different variations -- some feature trendy distressing, while others may have pleats or stone-washing -- they all share a high waist, a low crotch, and back pockets placed high on the rear end which have the effect of flattening out the wearer's backside. This is in high contrast to the ubiquitous skinny jean of only five years ago, with their slim fit, contour stitching and lower waistbands. 

Who Can Wear the New Mom Jeans

Real moms, take heed -- the new mom jeans are a style that's best left to the younger set. If you have any hint of a tummy, mom jeans will accentuate it in a way that will shock you, if you're used to slim-fitting, stretch denim jeans. The appeal of mom jeans is that they're unsophisticated and are resolutely unhelpful in camouflaging any figure flaws the wearer might have -- two things you probably don't want in your jeans past a certain age.

If you do decide to wear the new mom jeans, you can style them just as you'd wear a boyfriend jean in your wardrobe. Their high waist demands a tucked in top, and they can be worn with sneakers or high heels alike. Layer a blazer over top to dress up these jeans, and add some shape to your outfits.

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