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For most of us over 50, frumpy beats fitted

I can no longer remain buttoned up on this crucial national topic. I am here to defend “mom jeans.”

I’ll sum up my case in four words: Consider the nightmarish alternative.

Without mom jeans, my peers in the over-50 crowd – President Obama included – would be running around in tight jeans. Low-cut jeans. Hip-hugging jeans.

The mind recoils.

I’m not certain how to put this delicately. Let me quote one of my golf buddies, as he watched a fellow golfer bend over to pluck a golf ball from the hole.

“Oh, man,” he said. “Nobody wants to see a 60-year-old man’s panty lines.”

Make fun of mom jeans all you want, but these jeans have one irrefutable quality that overrides all of their perceived faults: They reveal no lines whatsoever, not even Depends lines.

Of course, mom jeans are an easy target. Everybody gets a big chuckle out of just saying the phrase “mom jeans,” especially when applied to a dad, and especially when applied to a dad who is president. Recently, people of all political persuasions have gotten a big guffaw out of making fun of Obama for wearing jeans that are, let’s just say, “relaxed fit.”

“Mom jeans,” as a national source of mirth, date back to 2003, when “Saturday Night Live” aired a parody ad that introduced a new line of high-waisted, generously pleated jeans that “fits mom just the way she likes it.”

“She’ll love the nine-inch zipper and casual front pleats,” an announcer intoned. “Cut generously, to fit a mom’s body.”

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph pranced proudly down a suburban driveway displaying acres of blue denim, not all of it below the navel. The kicker came at the end.

“This Mother’s Day, don’t give Mom that bottle of perfume. Give her something that says, ‘I’m not a woman anymore. I’m a mom!’ ”

The “Mom Jeans” parody signaled the final death knell to a particular style of jeans that were popular among lots of moms in the 1980s and 1990s. These jeans were characterized by high waists, a generous cut, and occasionally, in the most egregious cases, a puckered elastic waistband.

However, the phrase “mom jeans” soon began to be applied to any pair of relaxed fit jeans that were non-low-rise, non-stonewashed, non-acid-washed or non-anything-washed. In other words, jeans that were just plain old blue jeans, of the type that moms, dads and grandparents are prone to favor to this day.

How did this happen? It started in July 2009, when Obama threw out the first pitch in the Major League All-Star Game wearing a comfort-fit pair of loose blue jeans. People gleefully made fun of his “dad jeans.” Fair enough. Some even called them “grandpa jeans.” And then a few people, feeling that “grandpa jeans” didn’t carry quite enough ridicule, accused him of wearing “mom jeans.”

A week or so after the game, Obama was induced to comment on the so-called jeans affair.

“I’m a little frumpy,” he admitted. “For people who want a president who looks great in tight jeans, I’m sorry.”

Then, last month, Obama was once more accused of wearing frumpy jeans when he was photographed in the Oval Office wearing a pair of relaxed-fit jeans while talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone.

Sarah Palin, noted fashion arbiter, said this on Fox News: “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

For the next week or two, “mom jeans” became a political talking point, shorthand for everyone who thought he had a wimpy sense of fashion, as well as, I suppose, a wimpy sense of foreign policy. You know, a “mom-jeans” foreign policy.

From a strictly fashion standpoint, however, the most crucial result of the Putin-Palin incident was the complete transformation of “mom jeans” from the high-waisted and big-bottomed style of the “Saturday Night Live” parody, to just plain old everyday relaxed-fit Levis and Wranglers.

I am not here to defend the old, SNL version of mom jeans. They are, as far as I can tell, indefensible. (Except for wearing while gardening. In a backyard. Behind a high wooden fence.)

I am, however, defending in the strongest possible manner the so-called mom jeans that are simply relaxed-fit, properly loose jeans that my over-50 peers like to wear and, in all justice, ought to be wearing.

Just try to summon up an image, once again, of my fellow moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas wearing some of the jeans you’ll find in the youthful sections of your local denim purveyor. For women, there are the slim-fit jeans: extra low-rise, with a “fitted hip and thigh.” Another style called “modern fit,” features “slim hips and thighs.” Due to a complex scientific formula, which I’ll explain shortly, anything with the word “fitted” or “slim,” especially involving thighs, are simply not made for me and my fellow 50-and-overs.

For men, there are two equally appalling denim extremes. First, there are the extra-saggy, low-riding jeans, which reveal your boxer shorts. Then there are the “skinny jeans,” usually in black, favored by hipsters, which are so tight from thigh to ankle they might as well be leotards. I can’t go into all of the reasons why these are so wrong for those of mature years, except to say that you’d have to hire a home health aide just to peel them off. (Maybe Medicare would pay for it.)

So, here’s the scientific formula that mature people should remember when purchasing jeans: Gravity, plus age, equals relaxed-fit.

Some of my peers can get away with good old-fashioned straight fit, and I salute them. Getting away with slim fit is also possible, but is not nearly as common. If you believe you can get away with slim fit, I highly recommend that you ask your teenage daughter or granddaughter for a second opinion.

In any case, is it even worth trying? As one of my friends recently said, “I can’t even imagine why anyone wouldn’t want a skosh more room in the seat and thigh.”

Think this through. Which would be the bigger fashion violation? A 52-year-old president wearing loose, fuddy-duddy jeans, or a 52-year-old president wearing skinny jeans with red sneakers? We don’t need a national poll to know the answer to that question.

Jim Kershner is a senior correspondent for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at