Before entering the mall, I slip on a holiday-themed mask. I’d meant to grab my black one, but I left it on the counter next to the baby formula, so my face has been transformed into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Like almost everybody, I haven’t been properly shopping in nearly two years, but the instant I walk through the revolving doors, I’m wrapped in the warm embrace of Christmas-season consumerism, and even the dorky face-covering can’t bring me down.
I refocus on the task at hand—I need new jeans, and I need them bad. The pandemic wasn’t kind to anyone, and after tossing a second pregnancy and maternity leave into the mix, my go-to skinny jeans just don’t fit—or fasten—like they used to. Admittedly, I haven’t done a ton of research into recent trends and noticed a few puzzling things on the way here. Was that girl un-ironically rocking a mullet? Have we fully regressed to Y2K footwear? Does athleisure now include flannel pyjamas? Some wacky styles have clearly taken hold, but denim can’t have changed that much…right?
The moment I enter the first store, I realize something is amiss. There’s an entire section of jeans called “Wedgie.” Definitely weird, but that’s okay—I’m in my mid-thirties, and this is simply not my section. There are plenty of other sections. I’m good. I keep moving.
The next section I walk through is called “Mom.” This is confusing. I actively try not to look like a mom (although, admittedly, it’s a losing battle, with the reindeer mask and the spit-up on my shoulder). “Mom jeans” used to be a term for hideous, frumpy, shapeless monstrosities hoisted upon women in the early ’90s. And, lo and behold, that definition remains accurate, but now, somehow, the look is in. Rebranding be damned, mom jeans on an actual mom are at odds with my style goals. Not today.
I’m feeling a bit sweaty as I scurry through the “Ugly” section. This is the land of crisscross, oversized cargo, drop-crotch, and worker pants that remind me of that skater guy I made out with one time in the early aughts. I’m certain any of these would look categorically ridiculous on my body. I pass “Dire and Distressed,” which accurately describes how I’m feeling after ten minutes of shopping in a world that I no longer recognize. I covered my eyes and sprint through “Low Rise,” because, 1) there’s a Caesarean scar where there once was not, and 2) I’ll never sport a whale tail. Ever. Again.
Quick question: What fresh fashion hell are we living in? And what has happened to the denim industry over the past 22 months to make it hate us so much?
I pass a pubescent sales associate on my way to the back of the store. She’s wearing a pair of jeans that look like they belonged to her grandfather before they were torn to shreds by a pack of Dobermans. I don’t dare ask for help. I couldn’t stomach the incredulous once-over or the potentially mortifying response—“Have you tried our Cheugy section, Ma’am?” What does she know, anyway? Had I been slightly less responsible in college, she could legitimately be my daughter.
It is here, in the midst of a denim-induced identity crisis, that an all-encompassing truth reveals itself: I’m seeking silent validation from a teenager who is unabashedly wearing Ugly Mom Wedgie Wide-Leg Dire jeans. This kid doesn’t know me and doesn’t give two clunky loafers about my personal style. Maybe, just maybe, other humans aren’t judging me half as harshly as I’m judging myself. Maybe, in a sea of infinite styles, I get to wear whatever I want.
I grab a folded pair of jeans off a table labelled “Ankle” and head to the change room. I strip, shimmy, zip—are they supposed to be this short?—and turn to face the mirror. They’re a bit baggier than I’m used to, and the cut-off length is problematic in a northern climate, but the raw hem is fun. Will they look good with a pair of Chelsea boots? You bet your denim-clad booty they will. Turns out, I’m a Rib-High Bootleg kind of gal.
I saunter up to the checkout counter, making a mental note to include “radical self-acceptance” on my list of New Year’s resolutions. As the cashier rings me through, she glances up. “I love your mask,” she says, using hey eyebrows to communicate sincerity. I walk out of there feeling ten feet tall, and nothing, not even the inevitable frostbite on my exposed ankles, can taint this glorious, beautiful moment of shopping bliss.