One of the most polarising fashions from the 2000s is making a return: the low-rise, stomach revealing jeans. Models Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid have been seen in the style and, according to Digitalloft.co.uk, online searches have increased by 73% in the past 12 months.
The trend has been lighting up social media but not for the right reasons. Like the divisive skinny jeans, the return of the 20-year-old staple made famous by Paris Hilton, Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears has given Twitter commentators cause for concern.
“I think my biggest fear would probably have to be low-rise jeans coming back in style,” wrote one. While another tongue-in-cheek user wrote: “What’s Biden’s plan to stop low-rise jeans from coming back?”
Despite their popularity on TikTok – videos with the hashtag #lowrisejeans have been viewed 34m times on the app) – users are railing against the garment for how it excluded people in the Noughties.
“A lot of Millennial women are saying they are nervous about low-rise pants coming back in style,” says user Collin McCarthy “(because when) low-rise pants were popular…your body was the fashion…you weren’t showing off what you were wearing, you were showing off your stomach.”
While user Jessica Blair points out, the 2000s were not good for different body shapes. “Clothing options for plus-sized people in the early 2000s were virtually non-existent, thereby completely excluding fat people from fashion.”
For Kirk Miller, who featured them in his collections for the New York label Linder, what makes them unappealing to some is the same reason they are appealing to others. “They could be considered bad taste, which could partially be what is alluring about them,” he says. “They shorten the leg and elongate the torso.”
The return of low-rise jeans is part of a Y2K fashion renaissance, which includes cutout tops, tank tops and oval sunglasses. The trend forecaster Giulia Ceriani calls it “future vintage”, underlining its ironic detachment from time.
“It’s a mix of fantasy, tech, art and gaming that looks like an attempt to defer when to deal with reality,” she says. “It’s grounded in the need to escape from any exact definition of the present.”
Geraldine Wharry, another trend forecaster, adds: “I think the Y2K trend points to a time pre-social media and pre-economic crisis that still bred a certain kind of innocence that feels a bit lost now.”
Low risers first appeared in 1993 when Alexander McQueen sent a pair of bottom-revealing “bumsters” down the runway. They prompted one fashion journalist at the time to comment that they created a cleavage “closer to the building site than the boudoir”. In McQueen’s biography Blood Beneath the Skin, the fashion historian Judith Watt wrote that the designer’s trousers resulted in a whole generation wearing their jeans just below the waist. Indeed, new versions are being made by Levi’s and Pepe Jeans today.
Perhaps, as Miller suggests, they will always provoke a strong reaction. He says that when he showed his low-slung Linder range in 2018 and 2019, the reaction was mixed.
“Some people were not ready, but others were excited by the prospect of the low rise jean again,” he says. “In the end, I suppose, you let the wearer decide how high their rise should be.”