Ziiiip! The Great Pants Crisis of 2007

“A friend of mine is really concerned about her fall wardrobe, because she’s only 5 feet 5 inches and is worried she can’t pull off the high-waisted look,” said Susan Cernek, fashion editor at Glam.com, talking about the impending challenges of autumn fashion. “I tell her to stick with the skinny jeans. Or even better yet, forget about the pants entirely and stick to dresses!”

Just when New York women had learned to live with skinny jeans (it’s all about the billowy tops!) the fashion industry has thrown us a new and most unwelcome curve. The latest pants trend is not a return to the flattering low-rise boot-cuts we twenty-somethings knew and loved in college (and which, as anyone who has left the city lately will note, the rest of the country is still loving). Nope: The new look is tight and high-waisted with a dramatic bell-bottom: sort of 70’s, part sailor, part Mom-goes-to-the-disco. That waist you’ve hid under colorful shift dresses all summer? Tone it up, honey. Because much like skinny jeans, these pants will look great on the models who languish in East Village coffee shops. But chances are, they will not look great on you.

Stacey Bendet, founder and designer of Alice + Olivia, a midpriced brand known for flattering pants, blames the denim companies for the whiplash-inducing shifts in shape. “There have been a lot of proportion changes in the last few years,” Ms. Bendet said. “There was a huge denim boom around 2000, 2001, and the denim companies have tried to keep that going. There are only so many washes you can do, so the new way to make us buy a new jean every season was to keep doing different proportions. You know, pushing skinny jeans, high-waisted jeans.” Ms. Bendet also suggested that the ubiquitous casual dresses of summer were a direct reaction to skinny jeans, which—let’s face it—only look good on size 2’s. “I think the dress trend came from the skinny jeans,” she said. “If you don’t look good in skinny jeans, you can throw a dress over them and it’s easier. It makes them more wearable.”

Indeed, many women have stopped bothering with the jeans altogether. Dresses, after all, are voluminous, forgiving, comfortable … democratic. But something is wrong here. It’s pants that were supposed to set us free, to make us equal. Now, at least in the higher echelons of fashion, pants are exclusive: wearable mostly by skinny girls with no hips. And consequently, New York women, more equal to men than most in this country, have resorted to traipsing around in frilly dresses that resemble nothing so much as maternity wear. And many of them are due for a good old-fashioned consciousness-raising.

“Hmmmm, I guess I haven’t bought pants lately,” said a woman named Jennifer, 32, of Manhattan, whom The Observer found perusing the racks at Anthropologie. “I’ve been buying fewer pants, and more skirts and dresses. They’re easier. I don’t wear skinny jeans or high-waisted pants. They’re hard to pull off.”

“I have to admit that I haven’t bought a new pair of pants in four years!” e-mailed Rachel Schwartz, 34, of Brooklyn. “Seriously, not an exaggeration. The last pair I bought was from the Gap. I want to throttle designers for not making pants that will contain your whole ass!”

Grace Nwosu, 31, of Queens, said she can only find pants that fit in the Nordstrom’s men’s department. “I don’t wear skinny jeans. I’m not skinny! Not at all!” she said when we spotted her in J.Crew. And what of high-waisted pants? “I actually bought a pair of those from Guess, and I couldn’t sit down, so I had to return them the next day,” she said, exasperated.

There is a general consensus that while skinny jeans were bad, high-waisted jeans will be worse. “The high waist can be a bit harder to pull off,” Ms. Cernek said. “In order to get the streamlined silhouette which is the most flattering, you kind of have to have mammoth platform heels. And you have to tuck in a shirt, and probably belt it, which is harder to pull off than just donning a billowy blouse and flats. So there’s a misunderstanding about the ease of the two silhouettes.”

But Grant Krajecki, co-founder and designer of Grey Ant, whose much–sought-after, high-waisted jeans have helped popularize the trend (“low-rises had been around for too long. I’ve always been into doing the opposite”) suggested that consumers have become spoiled. “People get bent out of shape about how they’re forcing another trend on us,” he said dismissively. “Some people didn’t like the low waist. Maybe this is something they’d rather wear! And all the blogs are talking about how it only looks good on skinny girls—calm down. It’s just a jean! When we were younger, trends came and went, but when mini-skirts were in, you could only find mini-skirts. Now you can wear anything—any length of skirt, any height of jean. Everything’s in, so why not add this to the list?” He pointed out that high-waisted jeans, in theory, eliminate “muffin top”: the dreaded syndrome of excess flesh billowing over the top of tight, low-waisted skinny jeans.

Ziiiip! The Great Pants Crisis of 2007