It seems all good things must eventually be knocked down the pedestal, and so it is with the skinny jean. Or as my mother called my Tsubi Lean Beans: “Mambo Pants.” Not that skinny jeans have been thoroughly disgraced and banished, but their status as girl-of-the-moment has been usurped by what is called the “boyfriend jean.”
Now, I am someone who will probably never give up leggingy jeans (too much Joan Jett in me), but even I succumbed and bought the pair you see above: Acne’s “Generic Girl” in “One Wash,” a dark 80s Wrangler blue. What drew me to these jeans was that its star is built around narrative rather than shape. The boyfriend jean’s shape is purposely shapeless: it is basically a baggy, bow-legged jean meant to be worn rolled up at the hems. Its bow-legged seams are perfect for my own bowed legs, but it is hardly a classically elegant shape of femininity. The boyfriend jean’s true shape is in the story of women that it writes upon the body of the wearer. The description for the Generic Girl jean on the Acne Jeans’ online store makes this quite clear:
“Generic Girl is a loose and comfortable pant that looks as if you’ve sneakily borrowed your boyfriend’s jeans.”
This description is symptomatic of most blurbs about the boyfriend jean found on other online stores and for other denim brands. The jeans-du-jour that came before the boyfriend jean promised its wearers a cuter body, either through illusion (the bootleg cut, typified by Marc by Marc Jacobs’ “San Francisco” jean, dropped the waist to the hip, and promised an illusion of neverending legs with its shoe-covering slightly flared hem) or delusion (the skinny jean, which look best on humans with the skeletal structure of a matchstick, functioned as a falsely assertive badge of anorexic bodily superiority).
The boyfriend jean, however, offers neither illusion nor delusion of a fashionable body but something much more potentially insidious: happy heterosexual romance: “I have a boyfriend from whom I can ‘sneakily borrow’ clothes.” This is a status symbol of a different kind than the anorexic skinny jean, and perhaps more harmful. What do these jeans say about the kind of romantic relationships girls want with (or from?) boys? At the basic level, a very traditional one. The directionality of the boyfriend jean retells the old story of a girl’s drowning herself in her boyfriend’s cologne or prancing around in his shirt to feel him “on her” when he is not there. The boyfriend jean grows out of the notion that the ultimate woman is one that has a man by her side. Essentially, it is an old, boring, sexist story: it is the height of femme chic to have a boyfriend who completes your being.
But there is another way to look at the story offered by the boyfriend jean. While the baggy fit of the boyfriend jean seems to reinforce through eroticization the traditional difference between males and females, the narrative that emerges upon the physical experience of its wearing is actually a promotion of sexual interchangeability. The boyfriend jean is not just a loosely-cut jean. If you try to get the boyfriend jean look with a pair of old Levi’s 501’s, you will immediately face a problem: the waist-leg proportions on old jeans are fairly even. That is, the width of the legs usually follows the width of the waist. So, if you are a size 2, to get the “baggy” look you’d probably have to go for a men’s 501 of waist size 30 or more, which means you will always need to wear a belt, and end up looking like you’re borrowing not your boyfriend’s jeans but a potato sack.
This fantasy of “sneakily borrowing your boyfriend’s jeans” is a fantasy, psychically and physically. Let me tell you, OK? “Sneakily borrowing your boyfriend’s jeans” is not making a fashion statement when your boyfriend, like my ex-husband, is twice your weight. Once many years ago when I tried on my ex’s jeans, I found that I could pull ONE LEG of his jeans over my entire lower body and wear it as a floor-length column skirt. This is metaphorical of a girl’s usually unfulfilled desire to turn her boyfriend into a girlfriend: she likes a man to be manly, but that means a girly sensibility is by definition excluded from him. This is a desire to make your boyfriend “fit” you: make him...more like you. It is a major and paradoxical feminine fantasy: turning your slop-scruffy boyfriend into a girlfriend: sensitive, emotional, listening, attentive.
But the boyfriend jean lets you turn that fantasy into a reality...at least in denim. The boyfriend jean of now corrects the proportion conundrum of men’s jeans on women, by keeping the leg width independent of the waist size. In other words: you can now have a jean that fits you like your boyfriend’s in the legs but like your own at the waist. So what does it mean that you are borrowing the jeans of your boyfriend when its waist sits in perfect beltless snugness on the tops of your hips? What kind of a boy has a 25” waist and...legs the size of redwood tree trunks? The utter fantasy (or horror-film, depending on your tastes) proportion of such a boyfriend implied by the jeans emphasizes the utter impracticability of the fantasy of the perfect, stronger-and-bigger-than-you boyfriend. Instead, it allows the girl to embrace her inner freak, makes her open for an odd-shaped, imperfect, even freakish, boyfriend.
As a femme faggot who likes messy scruffy boys who are soft inside, I like this particular narrative of the boyfriend jean. It makes me hope that the straight girls who will buy and wear boyfriend jeans will similarly shift their fantasy of boyfriends. The boyfriend jean is a girl’s access to the progressive male porn-fantasy of Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” In that song, the boy wishes he were his girlfriend’s “girl friend” so that he could get even deeper and intimate into her nooks and crannies. But that cheap trick to see her naked at every second is really a cover for emotional nudity, the ultimate intimacy mutuality:
Is it really necessary 4 me 2 go out of the room
just because U wanna undress?
I mean, we don't have 2 make children 2 make love
And then, we don't have 2 make love 2 have an orgasm
Your body's what I'm all about
Can I see U?
I'll show U
The song essentially asks: do we have to look the same to feel the same? The song, and the boyfriend jean both answer: NO. In this way, the boyfriend jean produces a new math for calibrating both the feminine body and emotionality. This notion that heterosexual fucking doesn’t lead to or originate from a desire for children or orgasms is a very homosexual notion. As a feminist, as a femme, as a faggot, I hope it makes straight girls think more about their bond to gay people in more complicated and emotional way than the usual jokey “Will and Grace” kinda way.
On November 4th, straight girl voters will have a choice more important than boyfriend jean or skinny jean. And in the voting booth, I hope they choose the candidate who has the daring and vision to refer to gay people as “our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” on national television, in front of an entire stadium of people at the Democratic National Convention. I hope they vote for Barack Obama. And additionally, I hope those straight sisters voting in California vote against Proposition 8, which is a constitutional amendment entitled “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act”: Prop 8 would effectively ban gay marriage. My mother is a straight woman and a naturalized U.S. citizen who, in this election year, has registered (Democrat) and voting in America for the first time in her life. A few weeks ago, she told my sister: “I will vote on gay marriage [against Prop 8] because I have a direct and personal stake in it.” I hope every straight girl will regard herself as a “sister” to gay and lesbian people. I hope they will begin to think of their boyfriend jeans as “domestic partner jeans.”