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“If you’re going to buy a pair of pants,” the great New York School poet Frank O’Hara wrote in 1959, “you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you.” Forty years later, another New York poet, Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, took a different tack. “No one on the corner/got a bop like this/Don’t wear skinny jeans/’cause my knots won’t fit.”
I have always fallen in the Jay-Z camp. My knots, too, need air to breathe. But it’s not just my crotch area: it’s the top, middle and especially bottom. The baggy jeans boom of the 1990s marked a boon for those with plumber-like figures everywhere. As a pear-shaped white person who listens to hip hop, I rocked the baggy jeans. For years, I passed as a with-it, albeit husky, person.
I started seeing the writing on the wall around 2001. The jeans on the racks of trendy stores in New York were getting subtly skinnier. What happened? I asked my friend Kaya Oakes, author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, for an explanation. Back in 2001, downtown bands like The Strokes had started to take retro indie fashion to the world—skinny pants (also called “drainpipes”), windbreakers, man scarves, and the now ubiquitous ironic t-shirt.
Ah, that’s what happened. By 2006, skinny jeans ranked as the main indicator of someone who’s indie/hipster/Vice/Look At This Fucking Hipster.
And, in this author’s estimation, it sucks.
Oakes agrees. “They're really just a style some bands brought back a few years ago that's stuck around for a mysteriously long time,” she says. “Skinny jeans represent the worst of the co-opting of indie by marketers. While they did look cool on various heroin addicts in the 70s punk scene, today they're just a dumb fashion item that only looks good on a handful of people. Yet marketers keep pushing them on consumers, trying to make us believe they’ll make you fit right in at the Pitchfork Festival.”
My indie historian friend’s words are cold comfort as I walk inside Last Vestige, the local indie record store. Besides the clerk, no one else wears skinny jeans. The true record nerd, I think to myself, doesn’t wear constrictive clothing: how would you squat to flip through the stacks? Thing is, I haven’t been able to squat clothed in the past 72 hours and it’s taking its toll. I’d really like to take a gander at the newly arrived garage rock vinyl reissues, and I can’t.
I waddle around another record nerd in the aisle. He is dressed in the record nerd uniform: glorified pajamas, really a mixture of athleisure and homeless gear. He glances sidelong at me; he must think that I am a musician, I think. Fat chance.
I think it’s ironic that the people who listen to the indie music inspired by skinny jeans-wearing musicians invariably do not wear skinny jeans themselves. I’ve never dressed the part, sure. But I always thought I could. I buy a promo CD near the register to save face and go home.
In the 1992 comedy classic Wayne’s World, Rob Lowe’s character, Benjamin Kane, asks Dana Carvey’s Garth Algar how he likes new set for their show. “It’s like a new pair of underwear,” Garth says to blank stares. “At first it’s constrictive, but after a while it becomes a part of you.”
You could say my skinny jeans have started to become a part of me. Not! They have loosened up, around my muffin-top waist. My ass has grown accustomed to being presented out in public. But then there’s the pain.
Perhaps it’s psychosomatic, but I have begun to feel a slight tingle in my inner thigh. This, I fear, could be an early symptom of Tingling Thigh Syndrome, which is not a joke, but rather a real ailment that doctors have reported can potentially be caused by the wearing of skinny jeans, the extreme pressure of which can constrict the femoral nerves that run from groin to outer thigh to knee, leading to a condition known as meralgia paresthetica, Latin for “tragically hip with your balls in a vice.”