With complete sincerity, my life changed for the better when high-waisted pants became trendy. In my early teen years when low-waist, microscopic Hollister shorts were the norm, I absolutely loathed what I perceived to be my “muffin top.” It wasn’t actually a muffin top (or excess fat around my hips) at all — it was just my goddamn hip bones, designed by God to accommodate childbirth and general thottery, as well as my literal organs. But for years now, I’ve been able to comfortably tuck the majority of my lower body into a pair of jeans and not think much about the denim contorting the silhouette of my waistline.
Yet, nearly a decade has passed since the high-waist renaissance, and each day my boyfriend, Zane, still suffers the burden of having an un-snatched waist.
His work pants, specifically tailored to his body, are about to tear. His everyday pants — which tend to be Dickies he purchases at the local army surplus store — seem to fit him perfectly, except for the fact that his hips poke out above the top of them. Were he to wear the pants he owns any higher, his D&Bs (Dick & Balls) would be all squashed and visible (which, y’know, I kinda like, but it’s probably not comfy). Any lower, and we’d all be looking at his short and curlies (which, again, I kinda like, but, y’know). For him, it’s just simply one of life’s mysteries that pants can be so ill-fitting.
“I’ve always been trying to hide my hips. The way old men wear their pants — if I do that, my body looks much more normal,” Zane tells me. “The way I wear my pants now, they fit comfortably but I do have a muffin top. I’ve thought about buying higher-waisted pants, but I haven’t wanted to take any fashion risks lately.”
His plight is actually indicative of a bigger problem in men’s clothing: Nobody knows where men’s pants are supposed to sit in the first place. For men, pant sizes are measured according to inseam — i.e., the length of your inner leg up to your crotch — and waist size. Which seems simple, except there’s one li’l issue: Where the fuck is your “waist”?
It seems to depend on who you ask, and for what purpose. Your waist-to-hip ratio, for example, is often cited as a measure of fitness, and can either require measuring the smallest part of your waist, or measuring your waist just above your hip bones. Either location might be referred to as your “natural waist.” Among different retailers, the answers seem to vary as well. On the Levi’s website, they indicate that men should “measure around the smallest part of your waist. Not too snug, not too loose.” On the Dickies website, they say, “Measurement is taken at the top of the hipbone over shirt (not over pants). Tape should be held snug, not tight.” And on ASOS, “Measure around natural waistline” is all that’s offered.
Basically, there’s not even close to a universal standard of measurement, despite the fact that most retailers rely upon the same numeric system in dictating sizes.
What’s more, the individual products often aren’t specific about where the pants should sit, either. Though Levi’s might say to measure around the smallest part of your waist, the specific style of pants purchased might not be intended to sit there. Women’s jeans are often clearly labeled in terms of rise, or the length of the pants from the crotch seam to the top of the pants, but men’s pants leave you guessing. Typically, it’s right there in the name of the pair: When I purchase “high-rise” or “high-waist” pants, I tend to trust that they’re intended to sit above my belly button at the smallest part of my waist. Men seem only to get to choose between labels like “slim” or “original” fits.
The product description might be a bit more specific, or it could just lead to more confusion — a pair of 511™ Slim Fit Levi’s® Flex Men’s Jeans, for example, is said to sit “below waist,” with no indication of where that actually is. There are no exact measurements to clarify the rise length, either. Guys are just buying pants, feeling like they technically fit, and assuming that’s how they should look.
Despite the barriers, though, a better world is out there. Higher-waisted men’s pants do exist, and they aren’t all that challenging to find. On Dickies.com, a handy size guide explains exactly how each type of pair is supposed to fit. Since they indicate specifically what they mean by “waist,” there’s not much confusion as to where a pair of pants stated to “sit at waist” will sit. None of their pants go beyond the waist, but it’s a start.
There are glimpses of truly high-waisted pants on men in more editorial settings, but it’s rare to catch them in daily life among normal folks. What’s currently available is mostly of the trouser variety: You can drop some serious cash on a pair of pleated wool trousers intended to be worn with suspenders so you can pretend it’s the 1930s and you’re a man named Bugsy who speaks in a transatlantic accent. This isn’t necessarily a bad look (Harry Styles does it well) but it’s certainly not for everyone.
While I’m certainly sympathetic to the challenges posed by inconsistent sizing in finding pants that fit well for men, another issue is that many guys might simply be afraid of higher waists. Perhaps part of this reluctance comes down to perceptions of age: In 2010, British department store Debenhams conducted a survey measuring men’s ages and where they usually wore their pants. They found that waistlines hit their peak around age 57, with waistlines stopping just seven inches below the armpit.
Like crop tops, though, gay men have been wearing high-waisted pants for some time. “Gay men have been doing these looks for several years and have gotten bullied for it — now that straight men are doing it, its [sic] trendy. Do yall not see the problem?” tweeted @EwitsNoa in response to writer Evan Ross Katz’ tweet showing Robert Pattinson and Penn Badgley in high-waisted trousers.
And they’re right: whatever their sexuality, many men may have been avoiding high-waisted pants out of fear of homophobic bullying. Certainly, straight guys shouldn’t start wearing well-fitting pants and suddenly consider themselves trend-setters. But men, I beg you to consider how good you’ll look in a pair of pants that rise above your hips, with a nice button-up shirt tucked in. Imagine the freedom of being able to bend over at will, without the possibility of revealing your crack to those around you. And imagine how goddamn audacious and bold you might be in a pair of pants that highlighted that gorgeous little waist of yours.
Knowing how my body confidence transformed with the popularity of high-waist pants, I’m almost a bit hesitant to recommend it to the masses. That said, I’ll be pleased to never see another buttcrack sneak out the top of a guy’s pants again.