Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana
I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.
Buying jeans used to be so easy. I knew my size and never had to worry if they’d fit or not because, in general, the jeans would either be baggy or sorta baggy. You know what they never were: too tight. Then things changed. When? Where? What happened?
Let’s take a trip back in time. The year was 2007 — a simpler era, before the recessions and pandemics and when the idea of a Black president was just a twinkle in our minds’ eyes. It was a time when I could go to the mall and buy some goddamn pants that fit the way I wanted to look without even having to go into the dressing room.
Then something happened that changed the entire fabric of reality. That something is a little ditty called “Party Like a Rockstar.” The song was a single by one-hit wonders the Shop Boyz — remember that one for old-head rap trivia night — and along with the Pack’s “Vans” and folks like Lil Wayne, it helped usher in a new rockstar aesthetic for Black folks. That aesthetic included tighter clothes, skater shoes, and random wrist trinkets.
In short, that goddamn “Party Like a Rockstar” brought in a world in which the baggy jeans that I spent my whole life wearing were replaced with words that included “slim fit” and “skinny fit.” Of course, these options had always been around, but the jeans that made me look like a Wu-affiliate started to fade into history.
For years, I could just go to the Levi’s 569 section or grab my Rocawear size. Then came the time in 2009 when I went to the mall and the 569s were gone. Not sold out. They just… weren’t there.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wasn’t ready for the world to change around me. I was suddenly in a world where I would put on jeans and I could feel the denim actually touching my leg. Yuck.
This wasn’t just jeans; all pants got tighter, from sweats to slacks. It’s probably all for the best; most suits pre-2008 looked like designer Hammer Pants. Still, the transition has been tough for those of us who grew up on Kris Kross, Nelly, and the 2003 NBA draft.
And I think I know why it’s been such a struggle.
The debate over jeans — and all style, really — is all about how we perceive masculinity. Since baggy jeans were most widely associated with the rugged hip-hop we grew up embracing as well as the “manly” dudes we idolized in our neighborhoods, they were associated with our “hardness.” Conversely, tighter pants were also associated with less conventionally masculine men, whether they be members of the LGBT community (who we always ignorantly point to as being non-masculine) or people like Prince. Which is why so many cisgender men my age have resisted the fashion’s natural bend toward more fitted.
Over the last few years, I came to accept the reality of the new man pant. I’m 33; I can’t go out in public looking like I’m one of the Hot Boys. So I had to change my ways, embracing a trouser that properly adheres to my leg shape. I went into this new way of life begrudgingly, thinking I wouldn’t be as comfortable in tighter pants. But to all of you stalwarts out there: It’s not bad. There are benefits of a fitted pant beyond the fact you don’t look like you lean and rock with it. Suits look better. The pants are slimming. They accentuate your shoes. And I have to admit there’s something peaceful about a cool breeze hitting exposed ankles in the springtime. It’s like a little massage from Jesus.
I’ve seen far too many fortysomethings in jeans that look like Leonardo DiCaprio wore them in his fight with that bear in ‘The Revenant.’
With all that said, there is a point of pants-buying that can go a bit too far. And that too far isn’t about the tightness of the pant as much as their accoutrements: the holes, rips, and those little ridge things that go up and down the leg. This is really where the youngsters have made their mark, where the influence of the Waynes, Lil Uzi Verts, and Party Like a Rockstars really shine. You can’t talk rock and roll aesthetics without talking about ripped jeans — and that’s where I draw the line.
I just feel like I look silly trying to go anywhere with an entire thigh out and little tattered pieces of denim around it. Because, really, what’s even the point of wearing jeans at that point? Just rock some Daisy Dukes like any other upstanding American.
I’ve seen far too many fortysomethings in jeans that look like Leonardo DiCaprio wore them in his fight with that bear in The Revenant. Fam, just go get a nice pair of pants that fit and don’t have any holes in them. Otherwise you look like an old man trying to kick it with the youths. And nobody wants to look like that.
For the rest of my fellow Boot Camp Clik enthusiasts: It’s okay. You can cross over to the other side. I know you’re tired of perusing your local Sears for the last two pairs of Ecko jeans that make you feel like the rugged teen you never grew out of wanting to be. Try out the slim fit look. You’ll still be a man, even as you fasten that final button. I promise.