It started off with such a bang. It was in that golden period, between John Lennon announcing the Beatles were more popular than Christ, and the first copy of Ms. magazine appearing on our doorsteps, that something miraculous occurred. Across the fruited plain, in every school, in every grade and class, a voice appeared on the public address system, and announced: “Next Monday, girls will be allowed to wear pants.” Very often, there was a postscript: “Dungarees will not be tolerated.”
The next schoolday— I was in sixth grade— every single female appeared on campus in trousers, leggings, and yes, dungarees (that is to say, JEANS).
“Not tolerated” be damned. This was so much bigger than going bra-less. Can young women today comprehend a time in their mother’s lives when they couldn’t wear pants? How did we ever play kickball in a jumper?
There was only one hitch: It’s difficult to look great in pants. Trouser-liberators like Kate Hepburn were a rail-like exception to the rule.
Jeans were made originally for men to work in, at manual labor— not to sashay down the boulevard. There wasn’t a lot of call for making one’s derriere look fabulous. Most men don’t have much waist-to-hip differential, or would just as soon live with plumber’s butt and jackets that cover it all up. Early tailors never thought about making jean designs that held you in the right places and let you out in the others.
Of course that’s all changed now. You walk into a typical jeans store, and they have walls of folded denim and khaki, with signs directing you to styles like “curvy,” “low rise,” “classic,” “relaxed,” “boys cut,” and the enigmatic “long and lean”— is that an aspiration or a current appraisal?