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In Defense of: “Mom” Jeans, “Granny” Panties + “High” Waists

April 23, 2012
High Waisted Denim Love

“But you don’t want to wear MOM jeans, do you?”

Said my mom, to me, after a frustrating hour-long jeans try-on-a-thon at our local Old Navy. I had just rejected yet another pair of “classic-rise” jeans that weren’t even making a serious attempt at approaching my belly button (or covering the stretch marks), and I was about to cry.

My sole pair of halfway-decently-fitting jeans are falling down and falling apart, and I had searched high and low for a pair–just ONE pair–of jeans that might replace them, even if that meant trying out the skinny jeans trend.

Well, maybe I do want “Mom jeans” (minus the stonewashing and pleating, anyway). Because I’m sick of jeans labeled “high rise” resting five inches below my natural waist. What conspiracy decided that “modern” jeans should sit barely above the hips, requiring tunic-length shirts to awkwardly hide exposed bellies, and belted tops to emphasize a natural waist that could just as easily be emphasized by a well, waistband?

I am perfectly fine with my post-baby belly–stretch-marks and squish and all–because I couldn’t begrudge anything having to do with the birth of my amazing wonderful little girl. But that doesn’t mean I covet the muffin-top look, and I would much rather the emphasis be on my waist than my belly, thank you very much.

And as a vintage lover, I reject the idea that a low-waisted jean is inherently superior (though it certainly works awesomely for many, of course). Seriously, when and how DID this happen? If you look at any pants or skirt sewing patterns from the WHENEVER up to the 1980s, they pretty much rest on the so-called “natural” waist:



Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Oh wait!

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Yeah, there you have it–the hip-hugger jean (and that pattern envelope girl is even striking a pose worthy of Tant-Isis, queen of the low-rise jean!). Perhaps we can blame the 1970s? The natural waisted jean had a brief revival in the 1980s:

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

And then somehow, somewhen–in the 90s?–someone permanently decided that it was more modern to ignore the laws of logic and gravity and figure flattery and decree that natural waists were not only outdated, but UGLY, PASSE, and FRUMPY, retraining the eyes of millions over time until we could not but be horrified and terrified by so-called “Mom jeans.” This (admittedly hilarious, thank you Tina Fey) Saturday Night Live video didn’t help.

So where does this leave me? Frustrated and jeansless, pretty much. That Craftsy copy-your-favorite-jeans Jean-ius class wouldn’t work for me, as I have no jeans I’d even want to copy, so I think this means I need to do a little vintage-inspired jeans sewing (pattern TBD–I think I have some good ones in my stash).

And speaking of natural waists–what’s a girl supposed to wear with her high-waisted jeans, pencil skirts and so on? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to find cute, reasonably priced high-waisted underthings… in fact, most of these are actually retro swimwear bottoms from Modcloth:

Not Your Granny's High-Waisted Panties

So I think a little sewing might be in order here, too!

Finally, some questions for you:

  • How do you feel about natural-waisted women’s jeans and panties? Do you think they can be sexy, or do they automatically scream “FRUMP-VILLE” or “80s” to you?
  • Do you have any favorite sources or sewing patterns for high-er waisted jeans and panties?
  • Have you ever been accused of wearing “Mom jeans”?

Cross-posted in slighty modified form on my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

  1. I don’t follow fashion trends when they seem to be about how much can you show and not be arrested. And showing as much as you can is not my idea of sexy. Sexy used to be subtle, a suggestion. Now sexy screams in your face and is crass. I say go for the natural waisted women’s jeans and panties. Be a woman, not a girl trying to convince others she is a woman. For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion.

  2. After spending most of the 80s altering “natural waist” pants to be even remotely flattering on my short waist, I happily embraced lower rise pants. Less work, and they have turned out to be more comfortable and flattering on my particular figure, even after two babies (we’ll see if that’s still true after this third one!). But I’m not willing to wear the kind of foundation garments my grandmothers wore with the 40’s high-waisted clothes, either.

  3. As a professional lurker of since the old site (haha) I say, hooray for high-waisted things!

    (Actually, not underwear. I love my bikini panties. Elastic waistbands feel awful on the natural waist where they dig into my soft flesh (I mean–my 6pack…haha), but great on the hips, where the bones that stick out a bit keep them from grabbing my skin)

    I have a pretty slim figure overall, so I find if I wear highwaisted skirts/pants that highlight my waist and suggest more curves. No one has ever told me I wear “mom jeans,” instead I get compliments on my butt! :3

    I don’t wear pants too often anyway, but sometimes Forever 21 has great vintage inspired natural-waist ones (and I have a loooong torso). I’m using a 70’s pattern to make some high-rise shorts. I have a lot of 70’s pants patterns, but I haven’t tried any yet!

  4. I rarely tuck shirts into jeans, so I’m not at all worried about the “mom jeans” thing. Frankly, I AM a mom, and they are jeans, so what the heck anyway. I wear the natural waist Lee’s with elastic inserts at the waist which I find keep the denim from stretching out after an hour’s wear. If wearing mom jeans is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Wearing jeans around my hips that require me to constantly yank down my shirt to cover my back isn’t my idea of a relaxing day.

  5. I think I wear pants about 3 times a year but when I do they are waisted or high waisted versions. I HATE low rise pants, the annoyance of constantly putting them up so that nobody sees something they shouldn’t is horrible. I know that different styles suit different bodies however I think that pants should all be worn so that they cover your undergarments when you sit down….

    Saying this I must admit I did make fun of my mum when I was younger for how high she wore her pants!

  6. having had a belly since I hit puberty, so much so that it looks like I am perpetually 3 months pregnant, I hate low rise anything.
    I have given up finding jeans that fit and don’t make me look like humpty dumpty, and have juat taken to wearing skirts all the time. I have been tempted lately though, to sew up a pair of jeans for myself, using a vintage pattern. I really miss the ease of pulling on a pair of jeans and a T shirt.

  7. Oh I can’t tell you how relieved and overjoyed I was when hipster jeans came back in and were available everywhere!! I am long legged and short in the waist and natural waist pants dig into my ribs! Low rise jeans are perfect for me, but I do see the cute appeal in the high waisted pants…if you have the right body for it.

  8. I’m in exactly the same situation as you, and I’ve turned to the 1940s style high waist/wide leg trousers. I’ve had problems with finding well-fitting jeans since I was a teenager but it’s even worse now I have the squishy mummy belly! I’ve done a series of historical and pattern related posts on my blog recently, and I’m now just waiting for a decent day to take photos of my first finished pair. As for the panties, Sarah of Ohhh Lulu has just released this pattern which looks lovely:


    Anna Depew is currently hosting a sew-along with it on her blog too: http://afewthreadsloose.blogspot.co.uk/

  9. i love this post. we have dissimilar figures but nearly identical attitudes: i do find high-waisted jeans and trousers both more comfortable and more flattering than my stack of previously-beloved low-rise jeans. and the undergarment issue is a real problem! who wants multiple inches of skin caught in the fabric between the jeans waist band and the undergarment waist band?!

  10. If those high-waisted sailor pants in your Polyvore set were not approaching $300 they would be on me right now. I’m not sure I’ve ever loved a pair of pants as much – they may be my soulmate.

  11. I wear old-school Wrangler cowboy-cuts because they’re meant for women who ride horses, so they have straight legs, are definitely not “skinny” cut, and have high waists.

    I have a long torso and round backside, so even normal, waist-high jeans frequently don’t approach my belly button. Low-rise jeans don’t cover enough of anything to keep me either decent or comfortable. Don’t get me started on skinny jeans–those of us who have thighs are still mourning the passing of 1990’s wide-legs. Except for the Wranglers, I basically cannot buy pants right now; luckily, I live in Texas so cowboy jeans look normal.

    And, frankly, my waist is one of my best features, so why the heck would I accentuate my draft-horse hips at its expense?

    I haven’t gotten into sewing pants yet but, when I do, I will be all over vintage style high-waists. I want a pair of broadfall sailor pants like you can’t believe.

  12. I tried to find RTW high waist undies. Tried being the key word. Apparently they do not makes high waist “granny panties” in a small size. I tried three large department stores (Macy’s, Kohls and Penny’s) and found nothing. They seem to all start at medium, and i dont think there has been a run on size small undies either. The stores had some really cute leopard with lace and some satin and appliqué version I fell in love with too. Alas, no deal. And matching bras, forget about it! I saw the lingerie sew-a-long posted here not too long ago and I think I’m going to get the bra and Lulu pattern. It’s so frustrating not finding jean too. I’m a smallish size; one would think I would have a lot of option. Nope. Everything is so low, I’m far to old to be flashing my undies when I bend over not to mention how dreadful it looks with a vintage shirt (like two eras colliding and throwing up). I can’t even find a true pair of high waist denim jeans. I’ll have to add that to my mountainous sewing list too. I really wish the pinup and retro RTW clothing lines weren’t so expensive.

    1. Hanes makes perfectly nice high-waist briefs in cotton and nylon. My local Target carries them. They’re in the multi-packs hanging on the wall, not the loose ones in bins. And you wouldn’t know it from their website…


      …but they come in lots of nice colors and sometimes pretty cute prints. The trick is finding the color/pattern you like in your size, but keep checking, they restock a lot.

  13. I absolutely don’t get the low rise pants. All my pants sit at my natural waist. Making jeans myself sounds a bit daunting. So I buy mine from Freddies of Pinewood. Best decision ever!

  14. I’ve been wearing Sloggi Maxi and Midi knickers for years; they cover a lot of groin and a lot of hip.

    I suspect that the ‘low-rise’ waistline (and not only on trousers – given my waist-hip ratio, I find I can’t wear most modern skirts either; it’s why I ended up gravitating to ‘vintage’, a.k.a. charity-shop clothing, in the first place) is intended to reduce the total volume of visible rump on today’s larger ladies. If you had the entire buttock area under cover from the waist downwards it would look pretty large: low-rise waists provide an illusion of a less meaty rear end.

    High-waisted trousers only look good on a slender figure, as witness the effect of elasticated waistbands (which, presumably, always sit at the narrowest part of the figure?) on old ladies. I don’t think that fat women in the Forties would have dreamed of exposing themselves in trousers….

  15. While I’m not a fan of wearing high waisted jeans, mainly because I don’t have much of a waist, I know this feeling all too well, “My sole pair of halfway-decently-fitting jeans are falling down and falling apart, and I had searched high and low for a pair–just ONE pair–of jeans that might replace them, even if that meant trying out the skinny jeans trend. ” I have been dreaming of that elusive Perfect Pair of Jeans since I was 12 years old and so I know exactly what I want in a pair of jeans, so I just went and bought some denim and designed my own….and I love them! There are definitely things I will change with my next pair, but even with the flaws, I wear these jeans almost every day. I say, if you have a clear idea of what you want, just go for it, it’s not as scary as it seems!

  16. I second the Wearing History pattern recommendation. (But Wearing History is currently on vacation.) I have been using a modified version of the Smooth Sailing pattern to make shorts and plan on using the pattern to make me the perfect pair of jeans. I’m down to only one pair of hole-less jeans, so it’s really necessary. I can’t really wear things that hit at the natural waist because I am so short-waisted. It makes my torso look silly. But I still like my pants to cover my behind (something which is often questionable in most modern jeans). So, although the Smooth Sailing pattern is meant to hit at the natural waist, I lowered mine so that it’s a few inches below. It’s a nice middle ground between retro and modern. They can be seen here: http://mala-14.livejournal.com/115911.html

  17. I’ve just stopped shopping for reasonable pants. As another reader mentioned, the hip to waist ratio is a problem for me as are curvy thighs. I’ve found that a small pleat or two from the waist allows for wider thighs. I just can’t find ANY in the stores.

    Another issue: Who thinks that women look better when their pants are tapered at the ankle? It just accentuates our thighs and rears.

    When will clothing manufacturers start making clothes for those of us who are not model perfect and not interested in dressing like our teenage daughters?

  18. Sing it, sisters! As some others have mentioned, I have a nice waist and wide hips, so pants that actually come to my waist are flattering – ones that don’t make me look very wide. Especially if you want to tuck anything in, and all the best cute blouses look best tucked in. And don’t get me started on the problems of exposure while bending over, or the fact that my long torso makes those short rises bind horribly when I do…

    I noticed in the catalog I just received that L.L. Bean has brought back their “original fit” waist on several styles of jeans:


  19. I love this post THANK YOU for sharing.

    I’ve recently embraced the high waist look, and if I can manage it I’m planning on tackling a pair of high waisted pants. (almost finished a skirt, and I LOVE the look so much) And yes, I’m a mama too, and I think the high waist is actually more flattering when you have a little more around the tummy/bum area.

  20. Very inspiring post and comments. I have been planning to make a pair of high waisted pants too. I don’t think the below bellybutton, shaped waist band that is so popular look OK on me. When I buy jeans I usually walk straight to the mens section.
    As for panties I mostly wear these, very comfortable and not pricey. But I don’t understand why they are calling them boxer shorts?

  21. The only reason I buy pants that fit below my waist is that I cannot buy RTW that fits both my waist and hips. Burdastyle has been showing high waisted pants for a couple of years now, and they are always ahead of the US trend. I say go for the highwaisted jeans that actually hit the waist. Pretty much, I agree with the comments above! Great post.

  22. I love this post! I also have jeans issues, finding pants that fit both my curvy hip/bum and small waist is impossible. So i am forced to wear low rise jeans with a belt to hold them in place, but when i wear a natural waist top, belted ( which is a good look for me) i feel like a weirdo wearing two belts with about 5” of the worst part of my belly stuck in the middle. This is why i usually end up wearing a dress, lol.

  23. This post seems to have struck a cord with everyone! I was going to mention
    that i actually cut a pair of high waisted swing trousers yesterday using
    a pair ‘my lady’ gave me to copy for her,she want corderouy…..today i cut
    the pattern ot in a piece of woven silk/linen as a trial to test the lovely pockt
    pocket,button detail…..joy, i think i may have a new pair of trousers for me!!
    All my ladies seem to be around my size :)…but also today i tried the low rise
    skinny jean, high waisted granny knickers combo…itwas interesting and
    nobody got to see my bottom when i sat down …if any ones a size 14/16 uk
    And5’5″ i can always send you a copy of this pattern.

  24. I too detest hipster trousers and the muffin tops they create. I have a naturally small waist and have always worn high waisted jeans and trousers since the 70’s. The problem with the high waisted jeans in the 80’s was that they had an unflattering cut, baggy in the leg and tapered to a narrow ankle. I hate that you still can’t buy a trouser suit with trousers that sit on the waist. I have a couple of pairs of Lawman jeans that do come to my waist, and many pairs of Wrangler riding jeans that are the best thing currently on the market (I get them online from the US shipped to me here in Australia). They are still slightly below the waist but have a no-gap waistband and they are shaped for curvy girls and very good quality. What you want is a trouser pattern that has a flat front and NO pleats for the most flattering cut, and side zippers work well too. Some the the 40’s patterns are great, and the 50’s patterns if you want a slimmer leg. I wish manufacturers would listen. Not everyone suits hipster cuts. There are a few high waisted pants and shorts by retro repro companies like Bernie Dexter. I am going to make some trousers from denim. Yes high waisted undies are hard to find also. It helps to buy a size larger so the waist goes higher.

  25. I’ve stopped buying jeans because they are so uncomfortable. I need natural or high waisted cut because I am short (in the leg rather than waist) and it makes me look more in proportion. Plus I’m hourglass shaped so if I buy to fit my hips I’ve got 2-3 inches room in the ‘waist’. I recently bought a pair of retro swing trousers that are just the right cut to fit me snug enough. If I could get a pair of jeans the same I’d be happy.
    I have *never* till I started participating in sewing forums heard of the phrase ‘mom jeans’. lol!
    As for panties…if they have a marks & spencer where you are or a debenhams they do those kind of knickers.

  26. I have to chip in, if only to say, “PREACH IT, SISTER!” I have also spent teary-eyed hours in the dang dressing room trying on pair after pair. And have you noticed that it is impossible to find a pair of non-stretch jeans anymore?
    Luckily, I’ve got a few pairs at my local thrift store that will last for a while. Lee No-Gap Waistband makes a nice grey trouser leg pant that I wear to work. I don’t know if they make hang-around-the-house jeans.
    I curse you, fashion industry!

  27. I love high waisted anything. I have an hourglass figure and and short waist and ample bottom. Even at a size 6, low slung jeans or drop waist anything are as unflattering as it gets. I pretty much got down on my knees and thanked the heavens when the waist line of jeans started it’s slow accent back to it’s true and rightful place: the waist. “Mom jeans” to me is more about cut and figure flattery then it is about where the waist line falls. Style is what it comes down to. Cut the “mom” out of your jeans by finding a pair that flaunts your curves in a good way. And as far as panties go, vintage patterns are where it’s at. Kwik Sew made some great ones. Go for pantie or bikini patterns.

  28. Great post, so well articulated, and I agree with it all! I’ve been on a high-waist kick for a while now (I’ve made those top Evadress pants a couple times for one), and I have to tell you, I have no idea how one *ever* comes back from it. Comfortable, because we often tend to carry somewhat less fat immediately over the navel than under it in the belly area, and of course fat spreads when we sit down, so those low rise waistbands cut and bind, but high-waists somewhat less so. But also comfortable because waistbands tend to shift less when they are in that curve there at the natural waist, so we can be less self-conscious about what if muffin-topping or rolling out. And of course great vintage vibe!! I look forward to seeing your adorable high-waisted jeans!!

  29. Not to show my redneck roots here, but I get both natural waist jeans and “granny panties” from, **GASP** Wal-mart. Just My Size makes my jeans, but Lee also makes regular waist jeans in all sizes.

  30. Firstly, I will say that the 90s fashion sucked. I mean, really. There’s nothing good about 90s fashion.

    Also, I hate jeans because they give me muffin top, so I just stopped wearing pants. Skirts and dresses all the way!
    I have tried high waisted jeans and they still make me look terrible. I have an “hourglass figure”, with my hips being ten inches wider than my waist and high waist jeans do not flatter my figure.

  31. I have worn high-waisted jeans since the moment they became available again. I like the cigarette-style leg best, a straight fit below the knee. I wear a size 8 and there’s nothing like a high waistband to camouflage my gladly-earned beer belly! When you ride a bike everywhere, as I do, a low waist will show the top couple inches of a nice round bum… not cool! Cheap Monday makes my favorite styles.

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  33. I agree soo much! I gave up looking for jeans in shops a few years ago, as showing your butt when you bend over is NOT a nice look. I’m going to start making a pair of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing trousers and WWII overalls soon, they look so cute!

    Another thing is how all the jeans in shops are soo skinny! Does no one realise that some people just don’t like tight fitting clothing? Even though I’m a teen, I don’t have what is considered a “normal teen” fashion sense. And as someone with not-so-skinny legs, I actually can’t find any that fit. All the pants I have now are 2nd hand, and most are actually boy’s pants

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