Today’s teeny-tiny cutoffs are akin to the conservative cousin of runway panties.
Celebrities such as Rihanna are especially fond of cutoffs. Miley Cyrus, on a stylistic tear to prove she is all grown up, wears them with staggeringly high heels. They are a perfect look for Taylor Swift — vaguely sexy and rebellious but not so dangerous or provocative that they’d nick her sweet-faced image.
And in the PG version of the video for the abundantly viewed, parsed and criticized Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines,” the female dancers wear white cutoffs — as well as briefs. As they cavort with Thicke — along with producer Pharrell Williams and rapper T.I. — their red lacquered lips form a pout. The lyrics accompanying the hypnotic hit are provocative:
I hate these blurred lines.
I know you want it.
I hate them lines.
I know you want it.
But the costuming, with its sweet and sexy balance, takes the edge off the coercive lyrics. The political incorrectness in the song’s message of no-means-maybe goes down as smoothly as the groove.
There is no singular source fueling the affection for cutoffs this summer. It is fired by the collision of high-fashion influences, unspoken cultural references, nostalgic urges and the allure of a garment as easy and informal as a pair of flip-flops.
One can spend hundreds of dollars on a pair from the Milan-based designer label DSquared2 or turn to the Internet for directions on how to make a pair at home from old jeans. And in the middle, the mass-market influencers such as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch serve up inexpensive options. American Apparel promises customers that its classic, 100-percent-cotton denim shorts will, for $58, “suck you in and smooth you out.” Ah, isn’t it pretty to think so?
The ubiquity of cutoffs suggests they are the norm, that anyone can wear them. The brutal truth, however, is that they are as universally flattering as leggings, which is to say that they are not universally flattering at all.
Popular culture may have conspired to keep cutoffs in the fashion vernacular. But longevity has not made them more democratic.