Can Someone Please Explain Mom Jeans to Me?

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I have a confession to make: I don’t understand mom jeans. Are they meant to be FOR moms? What makes something a pair of mom jeans? Is anyone else out there confused?

According to Wikipedia, “mom jeans” is a slang term for high-waisted women’s jeans that were originally fashionable in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, they were mainly worn by middle-aged American women and considered unhip by trendy younger women.

This definition is precisely what I think of when I hear the phrase “mom jeans.” I can see Amy Poehler and Tina Fey strutting their stuff in the 2013 SNL skit about mom jeans. Unflattering jeans with a 9-inch zipper, usually in a light color.

Urban Dictionary has even more definitions, all amusing to read, but none making them seem like a desirable look for 2022.

So when did the definition change from uncool to fashionable? And why?

I assume most teens don’t actually WANT to look like moms. As I recall, that wasn’t exactly a cool thing when I was in high school. Nobody wanted to dress like their mom — or any mom, for that matter.

It’s not just the name I find confusing. I can’t quite tell what they’re supposed to look like, because I’ve seen many variations. The common denominators appear to be that they are high waisted and slightly cropped, often in a lighter wash and frequently worn with some kind of sneaker.

This pair from the Kohl’s juniors’ department does sort of resemble the style from the SNL skit, and it’s paired with what has to be a bodysuit. The bodysuit is a separate issue in itself; I find it hard to believe an actual mom could wear a bodysuit without thinking, “Wow, this is literally a onesie with snaps just like those Carter’s pjs my kid wears/wore.”

an ad for mom jeans

But that belt thing does seem to require a bodysuit, or something, tucked in, because a regular top would look strange and lumpy over the belt. The denim color also screams mom jeans to me. So I understand this one, but I still think this is a look I’m not eager to try. And as a juniors’ item, it’s definitely not intended for me.

Which brings me back to the name conundrum: are mom jeans for moms or not?

Next up is a pair of mom jeans that is ripped to shreds. WHY? Most of the moms I know don’t want jeans with a bunch of holes in them. I don’t need my entire knee hanging out of my pants. Why would I pay for clothes that look like they need massive repairs? The irony is not lost on me that I had similar conversations with my own mother when I wanted “distressed” denim in high school. But I don’t recall ever wanting something quite this tattered.

ripped mom jeans

In case you want something to show off your gorgeous knees but don’t want them to get cold, there’s a mom jean for that. I really have no words for this pair. Please note these are SOLD OUT. Why do your knees need a window? Is knee FOMO a thing?

sold out jeans with a clear plastic knee covering
WHY?????

In my quest to understand who is wearing mom jeans, a lot of hits came up for Forever 21, a store decidedly dedicated to teens and young adults. In other words: not moms. Not sure what the patchwork look is about, and I’m definitely not a fan of the acid-washed look.

two toned jeans an ad for acid wash mom jeans

I realize I may simply be resisting change. It took me a long time to get on board with skinny jeans, and I’m not tossing mine out. Trends change, and they are cyclical; I get that. I do see how these fuller cuts might be more comfortable than fitted denim, of course. But pants that come up past my belly button also don’t seem particularly comfortable. And there’s a TEENSY chance I’m overthinking it.

So please, enlighten me. Are moms the target audience for mom jeans? Or are these jeans some sort of joke about moms? Is it something else altogether?

Maybe in three years, I’ll be ready to jump on the bandwagon just as these jeans are on their way out. And then low-rise jeans will probably return, and I’ll wish high-waisted ones were still cool.