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Perspective

For Many Women, Low Is Still the Way to Go

Comfortable and youthful looking, low-rise jeans seemed like a trend but are here to stay.

January 04, 2002|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

Julie Arden wears her shirts a little short and her pants low to reveal a Celtic dragon tattoo that stretches across her belly. Her creative colleagues recently invented a new version of the beer-drinking game called "quarters." Instead of flipping coins into a beer mug, a pal flipped a coin down her backside into her gaping hip-huggers as she perched atop a bar stool.

"I didn't know it was there until I stood up and it hit my foot," said the 27-year-old technology consultant from San Francisco.

Yes, the perils of fashion are many. Yet flashing fannies in low-rise jeans have opened up far too many interesting twists on fashion, society and bar stool seduction to disappear now. The low cuts are the equivalent of the bikini that replaced the one-piece suit, and they're the latest key to fashion credibility. Hip-huggers say that you understand the way of the world, and that you weigh approximately what you did in high school. After all, Madonna isn't the only one in on the secret to maintaining a teenage appeal: The fastest way to look young is to cop the jeans of the young.

Ask designer Daniella Clarke, who sprang her Frankie B. ultra-low denims on the world three years ago when she sauntered into Fred Segal wearing her jeans with a scandalously itty-bitty 5-inch rise (that's the length from the top of the waistband to the joint seam. Standard-rise jeans usually run 12 inches).

Now Clarke is selling 20,000 pairs of low-cut jeans a month and has introduced a line for men. Let it also be known that her 52-year-old mother, Brenda Morris, wears 6-inch rise hip-huggers and "looks amazing," says the daughter. "She exudes confidence."

Attitude is exactly what it takes to pull off the look. While celebrities and the professionally taut prefer Clarke's extremely tight, low and sexy jeans, women of all sizes have quickly adopted the lower cut. A lower-riding hipster jean is one of Lane Bryant's best-selling jeans. "We have them in stretch denim, which is the secret ingredient," said Catherine Lippincott, spokeswoman for the plus-sized women's clothing company.

The other secret? A belt. It can prevent slippage by cinching jeans tight to your body. Of course, in the 1970s, we wore a belt and a bodysuit with our hip-huggers to prevent any accidental flesh exposure. We may have been hip-hugger pioneers, but we were careful not to get grounded.

Thanks to hip-huggers, the generation gap now refers to that area of the body extending from the bellybutton to the top of your micro-thong undies. If a woman can bare the flesh there, she probably hasn't suffered from the various torments of childbearing, gym absenteeism or poor self-esteem. Or maybe she simply realizes that waistbands are evil.

Hip-huggers soared to mainstream popularity--they've even become office attire--for one simple reason: They're comfortable. Us nearly middle-aged broads finally exhaled a sigh of relief when, at last, we could sit down and not be sliced in half by a two-layer band of riveted and double-topstitched torture called a denim waistband. It seems that no matter who you approach at the Beverly Center, asking to know why they're wearing low-cut jeans, they all say a better fit than ordinary "natural waist" jeans. They, too, have discovered that jeans are the denim equivalent of a swimming suit, and just as hard to fit, given the diversity of the female form.

Chantee Benefield, a 31-year-old artist from Altadena, says that she's built "kinda straight." So her low-rise jeans don't have an unsightly, gaping back waistband. "Skinny girls," she says, "have their problems, too." So do curvy girls, like Arden, who says that the lower cut fits her better, too.

And for the legions of compact, shorter-waisted women, the proportions of hip-huggers help them fit more like "waist-huggers." When your torso is so short that your waistband overlaps your bra strap, suddenly even the lowest-rise jeans don't seem so bad. Showing your bellybutton seems a small price to pay for feeling good.

Evidently, America agrees. A year ago, Levi's introduced its first Super Low jeans with a 31/2-inch zipper and an 81/2-inch rise. "Low-rise jeans went from zero to 40% of my business in a year,'' said Maggie Winkel, a merchandise manager for Levi Strauss & Co.

The rapid acceptance has caused Winkel to personally help hip-hugger novices into their new jeans. She created, and I quote, the "the Super Low pull, tug and wiggle." Here's how it goes: "Once you've pulled your jeans on and buttoned the fly, you pinch the fabric at the knee and give them a pull. Then you grab the fabric on the side of the thigh, tug and give it a wiggle. That causes the jeans to settle on the appropriate place on the body, which is your hips."

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