There are three words guaranteed to strike fear in the hearts of millennials everywhere: low-rise jeans. This particular facet of the Y2K renaissance has been inducing mild moral panic for a couple of years now, with high-waist denim loyalists reassured only by the hope that it might simply… go away.
Unfortunately, if you’ve studied the last two seasons’ fashion shows, you’ll know the trend isn’t going anywhere.
The low-slung, puddle-hem jeans of spring/summer ‘23 (see Jacquemus, Masha Popova and Altuzarra) have been reprised for autumn/winter ’23 by the likes of Gucci, Y/Project and Isabel Marant. The designers have spoken, TikTok has spoken: it’s time to reacquaint with one’s naval. The good news? There are ways to make it work for even the most stubborn of high-rise jean wearers.
First things first: let’s redefine low-rise jeans as any pair that sits below the naval. No one is expecting you to swap your high-waist favourites for a pair of Alexander McQueen ‘bumster’ trousers – an iconic, bottom-cleavage-baring style that was debuted in his ‘Taxi Driver’ autumn/winter ’93 show and then, slightly terrifyingly, reprised by the house for spring/summer ‘23. See this not as a portent of doom but merely as a jumping-off point.
Ease yourself in with a pair of relaxed, straight-leg jeans and let us let you into a little secret: the rise isn’t important, as long as they sit lower on the waist. ‘A mid to low-rise is great for those who are more cautious but still want to give the trend a go,’ advises stylist Issie Gibbons, who recommends Arket, Acne Studios and Reformation for jeans that strike the balance.
If in doubt, buy your favourite high-waist jeans one or two sizes up and sling them low. Zara’s straight-fit jeans serve this purpose beautifully. Or be a little brave and opt for AGOLDE’s Fusion jean – one of the most wearable low-rises around.
‘Over the last year, we have introduced lower-rise styles as women look for a more relaxed fit,’ says Donna Ida Thornton, founder of the eponymous brand and all-round jean queen. ‘They tend to be lower rise but still very casual, so think straight-leg and boyfriend styles rather than a skinny. It feels cooler and more relevant.’ Ida Thornton likes to wear Donna Ida’s Jess jeans with a long sleeve and Gucci flats, or heels and a jacket. For extra volume, she recommends Valerie, a more relaxed, skater style.
Matches Fashion buyer Julia Ferrar, meanwhile, is a wide-leg jean evangelist. ‘I’m investing in the perfect wide-leg, low-rise jean to wear with great oversize knits – either in a classic mid-blue wash or ecru – and a denim maxi skirt as we go into spring,’ she tells me. ‘Our exclusive brand Raey always has the best oversize, low-rise denim – at the moment my favourites are the Fold and the Opa.’
For a more tailored option, try a flare that’s cut closer at the thigh, like 7 For All Mankind’s Modern Dojo jeans – first conceived in 2000. ‘It’s one of our most iconic fits,’ says the brand’s Global CEO, Francesca Toninato.
Styling-wise, it’s all about playing with proportions. ‘I love a low-rise wide leg with a fitted top,’ says Ida Thornton. ‘It was my go-to last year with a pointed flat, trainer or a heel.’ Gigi Hadid, who was photographed wearing low-slung, outsized jeans with a white, form-fitting tee and trainers, has the same idea.
Ferrar has just returned from her biannual fashion month travels, where low-rise denim continued to reign supreme. ‘Glenn Martens has incredible denim at both Y/Project and Diesel and I love the elevated, maxi-length runway denim from Amy Smilovic at Tibi,’ the Matches Fashion buyer says.
It’s time to discuss the proverbial elephant in the room: the much-feared, baggy, low-rise jeans. If the recent autumn/winter ‘23 shows taught us anything, it’s that voluminous denim really can be wearable. Gucci’s slouchy jeans were paired with an oversized shirt, trench and suede loafers, while Isabel Marant tucked hers into pointed ankle boots for a quintessentially ‘80s-tinged take.
‘We like to style our Low Slung Baggy with an intentionally oversized, cropped box tee,’ says Erin Meehan, Design Director at AGOLDE. Meehan also name checks the label’s Nova tank, which features a curved, cropped hem that works well with lower waistlines.
You could double up your denim like Jodie Turner-Smith, or temper flowing hems with sharply tapered boots, as does Vanessa Hong. The styling options are more abundant than you’d think, and can be easily achieved with vintage and pre-loved denim, too; search for ‘Levis Silver Tab Baggy jeans’ on eBay, making sure to check the measurements against your own.
So, that’s the lowdown on low-rise – not so scary, after all. Whether you’re a baggy jean convert or compelled to swap your waist-hugging favourites for something a little lower slung, you heard it here first – it is possible to wear naval-grazing denim the second time around and not look like you’re doing Y2K cosplay. Godspeed – and may we all forever swerve both bumster trousers and butterfly clips.