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
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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.

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