Rarely does fashion provide a look of feminine rebellion from as modest a cut as the infamous high-waisted jean. If the key to fashion is being conventionally unfashionable, high-waisted jeans are the modern-day opus de mode. It is kind of incredible how such a simple slack can be so practical and polarizing at the same time, and even more impressive is the milieu of ways in which high-waisted jeans have been styled to suit nearly every look on the line.
Denim never truly goes “out of style,” it merely ebbs and flows with different scenes and spaces –– that, and denim exists in nearly every iteration within the world of apparel, so there is always something for any scene: especially the creative, and even the mainstream; high-waisted jeans are no different. High fashion, pop culture, Hollywood, Manhattan, Paris, Tokyo, working around town, or front row at a runway show: every space and scape is teeming with the instant nostalgia of high-waisted denim. The revival went from trend to full-stop established this year as everyone from Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid to Jessica Alba and Chrissy Teigen gave the style a spin. Whether it’s your first or fifteenth round with the high rise, here are a few looks to lean on and guides to give a go.
When it comes to cardinal rules of high-waisted jeans: fit is the long and short of it. The high rise revival rode into the fashion world on the hemlines of reworked design and precise curation to redefine the imagery surrounding “high-waisted” –– to break it beyond “just a ‘mom jean.’” The understated genius of high-waisted jeans is that with its modern renaissance came a bastion of styles and designs to fit any form, figure, and/or facade. Better still, each new venture for the vestment brought forth even more brilliantly simplistic ways to bring core elements of runway luxe to the ready-to-wear real world.
The question becomes: how to wear the high-waisted… akin to any denim or style how-to, the foundation is fundamental: framework first, pick the fit and style of pant that’s going to serve as your no-fail, holy grail, default everyday anywhere go-to (flare, kick flare, straight leg, skinny, slim, bootcut, vintage, boyfriend, you, name, it –– it’s yours), the key to any style is the signature, sort what works for you, high-waisted “works” for any shape, size, or style so the choice becomes: what feels right, what accentuates and highlights… different strokes for different folks, but at the end of the day, hem and fray, everyone puts their denim on one leg at a time; so here are a few ways to work high-waisted jeans anytime.
Start with the staple: the steady standard classic straight-leg. The high-waisted straight leg jean is an ideal primer pair to venture into new wardrobe territory for first-timers. The fit should come in closer than a boyfriend jean, with more taper at the ankle than the flare of a boot-cut, and –– rule of thumb for any and all high-waisted jeans –– the right pair should accentuate the waist and hips (not suffocate, not submerge). Pair the signature straight-leg with a minimalist aesthetic: V-Neck t-shirt and black cardigan for a neat nod to transitional weather, top-off the look with proper square framed glasses shades or bi-focals, and balance out the style with black ankle boots for a clean Monday vibe. More relaxed, less rebellious? Pair mid-washed straight-leg high-waisted jeans rolled to the ankle with a tucked scoop neck t-shirt, Kill Spencer girlfriend bag, Common Projects trainers and a bomber jacket to layer, or even just to accent the arm, for a casual nod to downtown suave.
Next to the iconic “mom jean,” among the most nostalgic styles of high-waisted jeans is the vintage wide-leg. The wide-leg high-waisted jean hit a new level of cultural prominence on the wings of the nineties rave scene and infiltrated the niche echelons of the cultural mainstream. This cut expounds on the flare of a bell-bottom throughout the entire pant. Even though the design itself is synonymous with a more severe styling pattern, it lends itself well to business and urban luxe aesthetics –– save it’s paired with the right companions.
The wide-leg can vary anywhere from more formal frame of a structured trouser cut synonymous with Balenciaga collections or de facto uniforms of designer showrooms, to the neo-rave subculture silhouette of a mid-nineties JNCO. Here, try a clean slate: pair dark-wash wide-leg raw denim jeans with a silk blouse to accentuate the waist with a tuck, and still maintain contrast between the structured denim and effortless fit of a relaxed blouse. Not too keen on the tuck? Leave the blouse free, and add a belt to cinch the waist and keep the contoured silhouette. Accessorize with silver bangles to ease from the structured denim, and black Chelsea boots for a smart finish.
For all the dread the proper mom jean cut incites, a bit of perspective and devil-may-care styling makes all the difference in the world. Rework and reverse what it means to style a mom jean by keeping the denim’s options open –– dress the cut as you would a canvas. The pair of jeans you buy are forever a work-in-progress to the sartorial eye, so let cultures collide in style. Here, bridge punk with parental and give ripped, black, high-waisted skinny jeans a go. Get a vintage graphic concert tee, understated low-fi trainers, a silver-decked black moto jacket, up the ante with a leather cuff bracelet pull off punk with a bit of proper on the rim. Going for something more subtle and steady? Simplify the look with a crop-top long-sleeve and flats to pair with the classic mom jean cut for a solid everyday go-to.
High-waisted skinny jeans are for those who want “a look,” without searching too hard for the perfect find. Versatility is key with high-waisted skinny jeans. The pants can play the role as centerpiece of a complete look of strict form, or serve as an effortless base layer to a more relaxed sartorial statement. Contrary to their stark appearance, high-waisted skinny jeans fit well into a Fall/Winter wardrobe as the primary piece of a layered seasonal look styled for the elements. Start with dark-wash high-waisted skinny jeans, pull a charcoal fitted turtleneck from the closet, bundle beneath an oversized wool coat, and leather riding boots for a subtle London nod. Going for a bit more fringe Americana? Keep it casual with a graphic rock tee and sandals.
The “High-Waisted Boyfriend Jean:” easier on the ears than “Mom Jean,” but as far as cuts are concerned –– it’s the Momma’s Boy of denim, and when partnered with the right pieces, it’s even easier on the eyes. For a low-key night out, pair a medium-wash ripped set of relaxed fit high-waisted boyfriend jeans with a black V-Neck, silk bomber jacket and leather high-top trainers, topped off with silver rimmed aviators to echo the aesthetic. Need a look for the Saturday afternoon urban sprawl? Swap the V-Neck for a silk blouse, soften the style with a knit sweater to reinforce the silhouette, and trade the moto kicks for a boot with a bit more heel to lift the mood.
Minimal to maxed-out, simplified or layered from pointed-toe to neckline, high-waisted jeans are standard fashion fare for any and everyone who needs a slightly-more matured aesthetic on the daily denim they wear.