My Quest for the Perfect Pair of Mom Jeans

It was arduous, brutal and a little sweaty. But I finally found them.
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Nora Crotty
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It was arduous, brutal and a little sweaty. But I finally found them.
Photo: Dhani. Watch out, Annie Leibovitz

Photo: Dhani. Watch out, Annie Leibovitz

This past Tuesday, I managed to not spend any money on food -- so I figured I'd reward myself by buying some new clothes. Rational, right?

But this wasn't any old misguided shopping spree. I was on the hunt for an item I've been casually considering for a while now: the perfect pair of high-waisted, light wash, straight-to-tapered-leg, heavyweight, non-stretch -- that's the key here -- dungarees. (Yes, I call "jeans" dungarees. No, I'm not your nana. Though I can cook up a killer batch of Duncan Hines brownies.)

This sort of denim pant -- "mom jeans," if you will -- has been back in style for quite a bit now, despite the fact that major news outlets seem to just now be catching on. (Dhani fell in love with Topshop's lightweight "Mom Jeans" last spring, but I wanted something with a little more... heft.) The fit has come a long way since their "nine-inch zipper and casual front pleats" made them a punchline "SNL". According to everywhere, they're set to be one of spring's biggest trends. Just look at the cast of the OG "90210" and you'll see why.

Personally, I've been wearing everything at my waist for longer than I can remember (well, maybe more like 2010? Things get kinda fuzzy before that). For someone with an hourglass figure, it's just more flattering. Find me anyone who claims to dislike the high-waisted look, and I'll show 'em a nice, ample muffin top. Yum! Full midi skirts, retro-fit bikini bottoms, flouncy high-rise shorts -- I've got 'em all. But when it comes to finding that exact style of dungaree I've been fiending for, it hasn't been such a cakewalk.

Actually, every time I do try on pantalons, I end up leaving the store feeling more chubs and discouraged than before, with at least one new diet resolution -- sadly never to be consummated -- in mind. Most often, it seems that dungarees in the pant size that I usually wear won't even fit over my thighs -- which I weirdly chock up to the fact that I live in a city where a lot of models also reside, and, well, maybe having non-Alexa Chung legs means I'm just not as deserving of indulging in whatever hep styles the kids are wearing these days. Then I tell myself, "Self: Shut up. The right dungarees are out there for you -- you just haven't found each other yet." Then I wash my mouth out with birthday cake-flavored M&M's. But sometimes, fate takes too long. So I needed to take matters into my own hands.

HOT.

HOT.

And thus, my dungaree odyssey began. I kicked off my quest at Urban Outfitters and immediately announced by mission statement to a girl who was folding things. "I'm looking for some... denim pants... not too tight, high-rise, light wash, non-stretchy..." I said this feeling weird because talking about your bizarre fashion fixation to a stranger is, in fact, a little weird when you think about it. But she was great. She led me towards a couple of styles, none of which were exactly perfect-looking, but I felt like I was headed in the right direction. As I continued lugging around my growing pile of heavy denim (a granny cart would've worked wonders), she'd pop up to toss on a few more. Thanks, girl.

I eventually found myself in the fitting room with no fewer than eight pairs -- and one by one, they were all tossed aside. Some were too cropped and gimmicky, like the two-toned Levi's I thought might make for nice casual summer bottoms. Others were faded in all the wrong places -- the distressing on a pair by Glamorous, which fit the best out of them all, was in a word, distressing. (I curse the day whisker washing became a thing.) The rest were just way, way too tight, even when I went a size up from my norm. I was bummed to say the least. But I'd come too far to give up now.

Next stop on the mom jeans treasure hunt was the American Apparel Factory Outlet store in SoHo because, quite frankly, I'm broke as a joke. After circling the shop floor four times, it occurred to me that there didn't seem to be any regular (read: non-candy colored, skin-tight) dungarees for women. So I headed to the wall of dad jeans, which had all been marked down to $50. It seemed like a good idea, considering the looser fit and slightly tapered leg I was going for. But as soon as I tried pulling them on with my questionable Little Kicks technique -- and fastening that dreaded button fly without breaking a nail -- I knew it was a no-go.

It was sad. I was sad. But there was something within me that just knew I wouldn't be able to feel OK about watching Teen Mom 2 until those perfect pants were crumpled up safely on the floor of my apartment.

So I waged on -- and found myself at an actual American Apparel. This one had lady pants, lots of 'em. I grabbed several sizes of the style I'd fallen slightly in love with online -- though that whole too-good-to-be-true thing was buzzing loudly in the back of my brain. It turned out that, of the six or so pairs I'd brought to the fitting room, several were actually petite -- which made the whole sizing process that much more confusing. I guess I'd always figured that "petite" clothing had the same measurements as "regular" fit, but with shorter inseams? Apparently not.

A hi-res photo of the dungarees in action

A hi-res photo of the dungarees in action

In the end, I went with a pair of petite medium wash, high-waist jeans, two sizes up from what I usually buy -- which didn't bother me in the slightest. They're parfait. It's like I've never possessed a belly button at all -- and they're heavy and rigid enough that they don't lose their shape or bunch up around my legs, so there's no strange rearranging to do throughout the day. At 5'4", I'm about an inch taller than the typical "petite" customer, but I like that the hem sits at my ankle -- despite the salesgirl calling them "high-waters" -- and hey! They were $10 cheaper than the longer pair that were on a mission to swallow my feet. SOLD.

The next day, I proudly wore my sturdy new mom-ish dungarees the way any early '90s French girl would: with a tight, stripy cropped tee, patent red ballet flats and a swipe of Russian Red by MAC. On a bathroom break at The Vamps concert later that night, I found myself surrounded by a bevy of actual moms, there to escort their screaming and trembling preteen daughters.

"I love your outfit!" one of them said to me without an ounce on insincerity. "It's exactly what I would have worn... in high school."

In a way, it was the ultimate compliment.