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Remember that cringey phase in recent history where anything with the word "mom" in front of it was automatically deemed uncool? Mom haircut. Granny panties (sort of different, but the same). For some reason, there was a negative connotation associated with trends that were labeled as "motherly" - and in the the late 1990s and early 2000s, mom jeans were no exception. (The SNL skit spoofing the trend surely didn't help its case.)
At the time, the high-waisted, straight-legged cut - which is beloved by so many fashion fans today - was pretty popular among middle-aged women, which naturally (albeit unwarrantedly) categorized them as a faux pas to their teenage and 20-something-year-old children.
But, flash forward a few years, and oh, how things have changed.
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Mom jeans saw a huge resurgence in the 2010s, when they were fully reimagined, now referencing the original cool-girl design worn by '80s A-listers like Madonna and Drew Barrymore. Gigi Hadid, Kourtney Kardashian, Alessandra Ambrosio, and more fashion icons couldn't get enough of this specific denim style, which unexpectedly accentuated the butt, elongated the legs, and did so in a loose and comfortable way, unlike tight, skinnier styles.
In 2021, with Gen Z declaring "skinny jeans are out" (something that was cleverly decided right before re-entering society and having to put on actual pants), mom jeans are once again getting their chance to shine, alongside baggy, boot, carrot-leg, and asymmetrical cuts. However, the mom jeans of today look
a little dramatically different from those of the past.
Enter: The Millennial Mom Jean.
If you were to search the Internet for mom jeans after clicking out of this article, the results would show a lot of ripped hems and holes at the knees, baggy fits, cinched waists, and straight legs. They're mom jeans with attitude, and while just as comfortable as your old favorite pairs, they have bit more flair (in some cases, literally).
Of course, these are the perfect wear-anywhere pants for those all ages, but they're particularly tied to millennials - AKA those born anywhere between 1981 and 1996. It's this generation that's lived through all phases of "mom jeans" (the bad and the must-have) and are now becoming moms themselves. According to the Pew Research Center, over 17 million moms in the U.S. are actually millennials.
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American Eagle's VP of Denim Design, Lara Knight, theorizes that, aside from a love of comfort, it's the nostalgia for styles of the 1990s and early aughts that's a huge driving force behind the slightly grungy trend. And, if you're ready to hop on board, there are a few details to look out for when buying your next pair.
"Imagine you owned that mom jean from the '90s and wore it with love - over and over for years, holes in the knees start to appear, tears in the thigh, rips in the hem. We have added a well-worn vibe to a throwback fit that really gives it a new life," she tells InStyle, referencing AE's updated mom jean. The silhouette is also less extreme and more approachable, she says, and with a variety of washes and levels of deconstruction, almost anyone can find a pair to suit their specific aesthetic.
"Mom Jeans are so comfortable and easy to wear, and offer so many new outfitting possibilities. Size up for a looser vibe, or try a longer inseam for a more throwback silhouette," Knight advises.
Ahead, we've started your search for the perfect pair, rounding up a few great millennial mom jeans to wear right now.
The '90s Cheeky Jean in Patched Blue
Shop now: $98; everlane.com
AGOLDE Distressed Mom Jeans
Shop now: $171; farfetch.com
AE Stretch Ripped Highest Waist Mom Jeans
Shop now: $60; ae.com
Zara Z1975 Ripped Mom Fit Jeans
Shop now: $40; zara.com
Express Super High Waisted Ripped Raw Step Hem Mom Jeans
Shop now: $88, express.com
Topshop Paperbag High Waist Mom Jeans
Shop now: $80; nordstrom.com
RE/DONE Originals High Rise Loose
Shop now: $250; revolve.com
River Island High Waist Mom Jeans
Shop now: $78; nordstrom.com
The Ragged Priest Quarter Panel Mom Jean
Shop now: $90; urbanoutfitters.com
The Good Mom Jean
Shop now: $14; goodamerican.com
Roxy World Wide Woman Seamed Ultra High Waist Mom Jeans
Shop now: $70; nordstrom.com