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How I grew to love my mum jeans  —  an open letter to this polarising fashion item and how I took them (and my own mother) for granted

How I grew to love my mum jeans — an open letter to this polarising fashion item and how I took them (and my own mother) for granted

Mama I love you

Text: Cheryl Chan


Image: Youtube | Saturday Night Live
Image: Twitter | @tanfrance

Mum jeans, (or rather, mom jeans for the American spelling folk) have always gotten a bad rep. For years and years, they were mocked mercilessly, and in 2003, they were even cemented into the SNL hall of fame when the group of female comedians I dub the awesome foursome that's Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch did a sketch on "uncool" suburban mothers prancing around in unflattering jeans. While the sketch was hilarious (and I'm sure no one would have then predicted the irony of how popular these jeans would become), the messaging was clear: Mum jeans were only for lame, unsexy women. The Karens of the world.

Fast forward to 2020, and Amy Poehler has since evolved into "not a regular mum, but a cool mum" in Mean Girls. Mum jeans went through a re-branding, and could be seen on the likes of every Instagram famous model you know. I'm talking Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Emily Ratajkowski etc. being snapped on the regular in the aforementioned jeans, preferably in a light wash, high-waist relaxed fit.

And to be frank, when they first started coming back into fashion a couple of years back when normcore burst onto the scene, I was very much against it. So much so that my then editor even proposed that I test-drive this trend just to get over my repulsion towards this clothing item. And while I'm the sort of person who would gamely yell "challenge accepted!" when faced with a weird fashion trend, I was apprehensive about this.


"You're not a woman now, you're a mum."

Sure, I had no issues wearing a head-to-toe banana print outfit from Prada, or a pair of deconstructed pants from Maison Margiela, but at that point, these jeans were somehow offensive to my eyes and seemed like it would do nothing to my body or my fashion cred. I was convinced it only looked good on the willowy Swedes with their long blonde hair and oversized sweaters. I was none of those things.

Yet, like the charming male best friend who was first overlooked by the confused female protagonist who should have known better, in favor of a lead with the physical properties of a Hemsworth brother (I chose Chris, natch), they've slowly won me over, creeping into my wardrobe and heart when I least expected it. Now as of press time, I own one pair that I wear on the reg (more if you count my shorts), even if I look like an extra on Miami Vice on a good day, or as a friend gently put "a reject on a '90s sitcom". Whatever! What does she know about fashion, anyway.

So as I stare at them hanging in my wardrobe on the cusp of Mother's Day, I'm reminded of how just like my own mother, I've only grown to appreciate their value years later. Here are some comparisons I've made over the years.

Just like a relationship, a good pair of denim requires time and patience to break in

Just like my relationship with my jeans, my relationship with my mother hasn't always been one that was... frictionless. A good pair of mum jeans usually involve stiff denim (none of that elastic jegging material for me please) that requires breaking in. This means for the first 20 wears (at least), it takes me a good five minutes of hoping around in my underwear to put it on. But when you finally break them in, the effort you spent on doing so is worth it. Not only are they soft, they are now molded to your body like a second skin.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that a good relationship requires time and effort. I'm close to my mother now, but truth be told, we haven't always gotten along. In my youth, we would have prickly fights that would end up with me leaving the car or her hanging up the phone abruptly when she lost her temper. I swore never to become her. But as I matured into an adult and witnessed the sacrifices she's made for the family, its helped me to understand her a lot better. Instead of writing her off and checking out when it got tough, I chose to work on changing my behavior to accommodate her.

They're both super supportive

Coming into age in the '2000s meant witnessing then teen idols like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera don those wretched hip huggers with zero percent body fat on their stomachs. And let's not forget the ghastly (but oh-so-trendy) belly button piercings either. While it was the epitome of cool to flaunt both of those things, at the tender age of 16 I had neither the guts nor the willpower to attain either. I would pair my own jeans with fitted camisoles  sans flat stomach and piercing and pray that my youthful metabolism would be more than enough.

This went on for years and all the way into my early adulthood where I would dash around set during shoots I was a full-time stylist back then with at least two shoots per week one hand filled with clips to ensure my models looked great, another on my jeans to make sure my bum wasn't exposed when I had to bend down and adjust a model's shoes. So when I finally traded my low-rise jeans for a pair with a six inch rise...man did that open my eyes to a whole new world. You mean I didn't have to suck in my tummy anymore? What sorcery was this?!

Hailey Bieber working her own mum jeans for a Levi's ad

And as I admired myself in the mirror, svelte tummy, lifted backside that rivaled a peach and all, I had no idea why I had thought these jeans weren't flattering. The higher waist helped to suck my tummy in, and because the waistband sat at the smallest part of my waist, it made me feel slender and lean even if I paired my jeans with a crop top. The fact that I didn't have to adjust them every five minutes also gave me a new found sense of freedom and confidence.

For years I had resisted these jeans, associating anything high-waisted with elastic waistbands and giving up on life. But yet like my very own mother, they were always the best choice for me. Waiting in the wings to "support" me and making me feel good whenever I needed them.

You can always depend on them

As soon as I inducted the jeans into my wardrobe, I can't remember a single holiday or trip where these jeans have never come along with me. They've seen me through winter, sweaty dance sessions, countless photo shoots and more just like my mum. Granted, my mother has yet to hit the clubs with me (although, never say never), she has been there for me no matter how much of a disappointment I've been. No matter how many times I fight with her or forget to help her when she asks for a favor, she's never held that against me (although if I don't play my cards right, I might be in for a prolonged guilt trip). She still loves me unconditionally and is there whenever I need her.

How I grew to love my mum jeans  —  an open letter to this polarising fashion item and how I took them (and my own mother) for granted (фото 1)
Me with the most important woman in my life <3

And just like how the high-rise, nipped-in waist, "mum fit" is now the benchmark for any denim jeans or shorts that I now purchase (three and counting), I too look at my mother as the golden standard on the type of woman I should grow up to be. Independent, smart, hardworking, forgiving, generous...I could go on.

So for this upcoming Mother's Day, wear your own mum jeans with pride and give your mother or any maternal figure of yours a hug. And if you can't be there in person due to the circuit breaker, give her a call/text to let her know how much you love her instead.

But if your takeaway from this article is "Gosh, now I need a pair of mum jeans, here's a couple I found that you might enjoy.

Happy Mother's Day!

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