In Defense of Mom Jeans

The jokes say more about our perception of women than of our president.

The mom jeans heard round the world, in 2009.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
March 14, 2014, 12:35 p.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
3 hours ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."

Chef Jose Andres Campaigns With Clinton
11 hours ago
House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
12 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

Clinton Super PAC Enters the House Fray
17 hours ago

Priorities USA, the super PAC aligned with the Clinton campaign, which has already gotten involved in two Senate races, is now expanding into House races. The group released a 30 second spot which serves to hit Donald Trump and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, who is in a tough race to win re-election in Iowa's first congressional district. The super PAC's expansion into House and Senate races shows a high level of confidence in Clinton's standing against Trump.

House to Vote on Iran Sanctions Renewal in Lame Duck
17 hours ago

Republican House leaders are planning on taking up a vote to renew the Iran Sanctions Act as soon as the lame-duck session begins in mid-November. The law, which expires on Dec. 31, permits a host of sanctions against Iran's industries, defense, and government. The renewal will likely pass the House, but its status is unclear once it reaches the Senate, and a spokesman from the White House refused to say whether President Obama would sign it into law.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.