The ghost of mom jeans past has come back to haunt the president.
President Obama called into On Air With Ryan Seacrest on Friday to discuss his recent trip to a Gap store in New York. Seacrest jokingly asked the president if a Gap sales associate had suggested that the leader "update his jeans."
"I've been fairly maligned about my jeans," Obama told the host. "The truth is, generally, I look very sharp in jeans."
The president then reminded listeners of the jeans that started it all. It was July 2009. Obama threw out the first pitch for the Major League Baseball All-Star game in St. Louis, wearing a 1990s-style of pant humorously parodied by a 2003 Saturday Night Live skit for a fake brand called Mom Jeans.
"Fashionistas accuse President Obama of wearing 'mom jeans,'" a CNN story declared back then. The Huffington Post even polled its readers about the commander in chief's casual look. "You are married to one of the most fashionable women in the world — do you want to defend the pants?" Meredith Vieira asked Obama on The Today Show a week later. "I'm a little frumpy," the president responded.
The wardrobe choice earned Obama the nickname of President Mom Jeans, and critics have pointed to the jeans as a sign of weakness. The latest jab came last week from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in response to a White House photograph of a jeans-clad Obama in the Oval Office, talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone.
"People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil," Palin told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates."
The joke has clearly stuck, and it has popped up any time a casually dressed Obama goes on a bike ride or visits a museum.
Sure, mom jeans don't look good on just about everyone — the irrational above-the-navel waist, those big pockets that make behinds look disproportionately long, that glaring light-blue wash. In other words, solid joke material. Now forget about the president, and think about who actually wears mom jeans on a regular basis. When you do that, the implied insult of mom-jean jokes transcends the seams and hits at the people who actually wear them: moms.
So when, as Susan Orlean observed in The New Yorker in 2011, did "mom" become a swear word? And when did looking like one become almost offensive? Orlean went on:
I guess the current definition of "mom" is someone who wears their jeans high enough to hide their tramp stamp; is attractive but genderless; is, in other words, nice, slightly frumpy, has old cookie batter dried in her badly-in-need-of-an-updated-haircut hair, exudes not one jot of danger or adventure or abandon although somewhere, under her really-should-give-it-to-Goodwill-it-is-so-old-and-unstylish flowered top, you can detect a whiff of a once-exciting woman. In other words, please kill me now.
Moms, by virtue of pushing children out into the world and then raising them, are not weak. They often juggle work, hobbies, and their children's hobbies. They are tough decision makers who don't have time for nonsense or procrastination. Some serve in Congress, others medal at the Olympics. "Women who buy [mom jeans] are practical and likely too busy to care that fashion editors and designers have declared that skinny jeans are a 'must' for the fall season," Jill Hudson Neal wrote in The Washington Post in 2006. In other words, mom-jeans wearers are the kinds of people who get stuff done.
Many moms are also, perhaps most importantly in this case, voters. Palin's suggestion that people who wear mom jeans are weak isn't likely to resonate with the female, child-bearing base.
If your eyes have welled up at all those P&G mom ads for the Olympics — and admit it, they have — then you know that moms are objectively some of the best — and strongest — people in the world.