Mom Jeans Flatter No Body

By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 16, 2006; 8:01 AM

I have recently developed an unhealthy obsession with eBay and denim.

I've stayed away from eBay for years fearing something like this would happen, but okay, whatever. Last week, I bought three pairs of designer jeans within 72 hours. I know, I know, there's a possibility that they might be counterfeit, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. I was able to justify this shopping spree by noting that the winning prices for the Joe's Jeans ($158 at Nordstrom) and Earnest Sewn ($190 at earnestsewn.com) pairs were at least 65% lower than retail. Plus, a friend who's a fashion stylist promised that they'd all make my butt look at least 30% smaller. Hooray! Long math was never my strong suit, mind you, but you've got to admit those are very good-looking percentage points. And since I wear jeans nearly every day and hate nearly every pair I own, it was money well spent.

Like most women, my relationship with denim is tortured, bordering on the obsessive/compulsive. I hate shopping for them, loathe trying them on and yet, a well-stocked denim department like those at Target, Old Navy and Saks Fifth Avenue makes my palms sweaty with longing. By my calculations -- again, I'm no Rainman -- I've probably spent the rough equivalent of the cost of a used Geo Prism trying to find the perfect pair of jeans. I've certainly owned my share of real howlers: acid-washed and cropped (junior year in high school), stone-washed and torn at the knee (freshman year of college), tapered leg (the three long years as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun), you-should-know-better tight (no comment) and just plain large (the dark days between babies).

And judging by a recent Saturday afternoon jaunt to the teeming food court in Tysons Corner Center, I'm not alone in my addiction to jeans. If there was ever a doubt that denim is the main staple of the American wardrobe, a stroll through this mall -- or any around the country -- will quickly disavow that notion. Nearly every single man, woman and child in there was clad in some kind of denim, and friends, some of it was not pretty. There were dads wearing jean shorts with leather belts (ideal for cell phone hangage); packs of teenage girls wearing some version of a skin tight low-rise style that left them with rings of muffin-top waist fat; and young 20-something guys clad in baggy-butt and torn denim pants. I also saw lots of really cute women there, too, many of them pushing baby strollers and chasing squirming toddlers, styling and profiling in their well-cut, well-fitting youthful jeans. Many of them had on sneakers and simple T-shirts; some wore heels and fitted tops.

Then, there were the Women Wearing Mom Jeans. The term "mom jeans" was introduced a few years ago as part of hilarious fictitious "Saturday Night Live" commercial with an unforgettable tag line: "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!' " It poked fun at mothers who wear the matronly jeans that immediately typecast them as being women who're hopelessly out of touch with fashion trends (at best) and sexually repressed (at worst). Women who wear mom jeans can be found everywhere: waiting for a latte at Starbucks, perched atop teensy chairs at parent-teacher meetings, running errands at Home Depot, Olive Garden.

To be fair -- and before the angry e-mails start rolling in -- mom jeans serve a purpose for a very particular type of woman. The denim is made of soft, washable cotton, so the jeans are very easy to care for. The styling and cut is often generous, especially in the pants leg, waist and tummy. The fit is comfortable, which is important for active moms with on-the-go children. And finally, most of the jeans are often very reasonably priced and can be found at retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's and JC Penney. Women who buy them are practical and likely too busy to care that fashion editors and designers have declared that skinny jeans are a "must" for the fall season.

I hear all that and I get it. But the problem is that mom jeans flatter almost no one. Though they were ostensibly designed to compliment a real woman's fuller figure, the reality is that most of them make an average wearer's behind, hips and stomach look...well, big. Every mom I know (including this one) wants to dress to minimize the cruel effects of multiple pregnancies, weight gain and the natural changes in your body that come with age. But dude, come on! If the zipper on your jeans is the same length as that People magazine you're reading in the grocery store check out aisle, you're probably losing the camouflage fight. And if the back pockets are the size of an IHOP pancake and are situated on the fleshy part between the waist and the bottom of the booty, they should have no place in your closet.

So why are so many women holding on to those tired mom jeans, thereby banishing any chance of looking like a cool mom? Many are resistant to change and prefer to keep the same style they've always had -- and one that doesn't set them too far apart from their family, friends and neighbors. Some are mindful that many of the low-rise jeans they see on non-moms aren't practical or sophisticated enough to reach from the playground to the office in the course of one day. And still others are militantly opposed to being told that they need to pay $100 and more for expensive designer jeans from hip brands like True Religion, Acme and Citizens for Humanity.

But, says Pilar Guzman, editor-in-chief of Cookie, Conde Nast's glossy lifestyle parenting magazine, price shouldn't be the sole deciding factor, especially because "at every price point, there's something that's hip, that isn't the Eddie Bauer gaucho jean. The Gap makes great jeans that have stretch in them for under $100. And living out in the boondocks is no longer an excuse because you can get anything you want on the Internet. I'm convinced that there's no body that can't find a pair of jeans that could work. I've seen every body type look good in jeans."

The mom jeans phenomenon, Guzman says, "encapsulates what happens to some women when they become parents. For many women, there's also this idea that dressing in a way that's obviously figure flattering or youthful is unbecoming to a mother. There's something insidious in this culture that suggests this. That's the thing that (author) Judith Warner captured in 'Perfect Madness,' and that other writers are picking up on. There's that message that if you're not martyring yourself, and that extends to your physical appearance, then you're not doing your job as a parent.

"You have to decide to hold on to that part of yourself that was there before you had kids," she says. "It gets harder and harder to do because your time is limited. It requires more of an effort. But you're either in that mindset of making the effort, which is more about how you see yourself, or you're not."

So deciding to ditch the sad sack mommy pants is the first step to recovery. Head out to a newsstand and thumb through a few fashion or celebrity magazines for some ideas on what's au courant in the world of denim. Steal a couple of hours away from the kids and head to your favorite store. Commit yourself to trying on as many pairs as it takes to find the pair that make you feel like you did in the years B.C. (before children). I'll continue my march along the Holy Denim Grail and I'll fire up a torch if I find 'em. In the meantime, where is that postman with my eBay box?


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