As jeans became a growing norm – along with denim in general – in fashion, pants styles evolved accordingly. Instead of fussing over skirt length, men and women alike could invest in denim pants of varying states of acid-washed or darkened or ripped. These days, millennials and Gen Z feel a sort of possessiveness over the hot debate surrounding what style of jeans is the most flatting – skinny or mom jeans – but in the end their answers can be traced back to Baby Boomer era fashion.
Namely, as Maura Judkis and Abha Bhattarai with Yahoo! Life note, both generations end up honoring vintage styles. They’re even helping vintage trends make a return with gusto. Skinny jeans or mom jeans, both all trace back to the 1950s through the 1980s.
Millennials vs Gen Z: skinny jeans vs mom jeans
In 2003, Saturday Night Life aired a fictional ad starring Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, and Amy Poehler. It promoted boxy, shapeless jeans that betrayed nothing of a person’s figure. To win over potential buyers, the narration read, “Give her something that says: I’m not a woman anymore. I’m a mom,” and so began the birth of the term “mom jeans.”
In a characteristic fit of defiance, millennials responded enthusiastically with skinny jeans, a direct opposition to everything these “mom jeans” that SNL – and Gen Z – would promote. In fact, just as millennials might disagree with Baby Boomers about living arrangements, avocado spread, and music, another generational divide sprung up between millennials and Gen Z stitched precariously together along the seam of a pair of pants. Mom jeans, Gen Z denizens would assert, are worth people’s attention.
Retailers will be prone to listen to this new budding generation, now coming of age to make legal, adult decisions – and sway manufacturing trends. Indeed, Yahoo writes that retailers often listen most closely to the next generation, and many outspoken Gen Z members are avid supporters of the mom jean. Forever 21 CEO Daniel Kulle sums it up, “I wouldn’t say the skinny is completely dead. We still have late adopters buying them. But the fashionistas are going for ‘the mom’ and the flare.”
The answers resided in the past all along
The debate continues between devoted skinny jean lovers and Mom Jean Army. Among those supporting the SNL-dubbed fashion, they note that mom jeans offer a wide variety of styles for different body types, from high-waisted to curvy. That falls in line with the trend of keeping inclusivity in mind. But both sides of the debate owe a lot of their talking points and favorite styles to norms that arose when Baby Boomers first started acid washing their denim.
For one thing, the very silhouette of the mom jean is a direct callback to pants popularly worn in the ’80s. Even before then, this pants line actually rose to prominence in the ’50s, though women and girls wouldn’t be seen wearing them to school for several years. They still persist today, associated with the generation that loyally wore them as they aged. New York resident and college student Aymee Batra outlined, “They’re really comfortable. They actually cover your stomach area, which makes it more appropriate and allows you to wear crop tops. And, you know, it’s just really efficient. Like, you could easily jump into mom jeans and take them off. You don’t have to struggle to put them on,” in addition to the fact they “look good on everybody.”
Then, of course, even those in team Skinny Jeans ought to recognize that the tight-then-tapered silhouette of their pants directly resembles those worn by hippies, to the point the style and counter-culture movement are practically synonymous. In the debate between finding the right balance between comfort and style, Gen Z and millennials may be at an impasse, but Baby Boomers had been guiding the way in that regard for decades.