Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #23 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand
Taking that little extra time in the morning to get the perfect peg on your jeans.
It’s been said that influence in fashion occurs in thirty-year cycles. So in sixties fashion you’ll find influences from the 1930s; in seventies fashion, you’ll find influences from the 1940s; and so on. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and every generation has its outliers and trendsetters, but I kind of believe it when it comes to the clothing and styles with which I grew up. Not that I was a fashionista (one was not going to find the latest trends in thrift store and Sears), but there was definitely a time when the clothes of my 1980s peers had 1950s flair. Blame it on the tenth anniversary of Grease in 1988, maybe? Whatever it was, from poofy ponytails to penny loafers, the 1950s was in, and yes, that, in a roundabout way included pegged jeans.
Think about it. Baggy jeans/pants are a thoroughly modern invention. And I don’t mean wide-legged pants (palazzo-style) that became popular for women in the 1930s and have remained here and there ever since. I mean pants that hit the floor and/or pooled at your ankles. Taking men in the twentieth century, their dress pants have almost always broken at or just below the ankle. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the pants were slightly widened or straight, sometimes with a built-in cuff. Jeans were the same, except that if you were between the ages of six and twenty-six and ended up with a slightly longer pair, you rolled them up. No sense in ruining those expensive jeans by walking on them! Plus, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley made it cool, so it was okay.
For women, the pants rule was essentially the same, except that it took a little bit longer for jeans and dress pants to catch on. Sure, you had the aforementioned palazzo pants for a couple decades, but it wasn’t until after World War II that pants and jeans for women hit the mainstream. (And I’d argue that the look really didn’t take off until the late 1950s and 1960s.) Women’s pants during this time were sleek, never sloppy. Unless you were in the military with straight-legged trousers, women’s pants always seemed to be shaped – form-fitting but not scandalously tight. They hit at or above the ankle, and jeans were often rolled up, sometimes to the knee for that cute Capri look.
But once we got into the late 1960s and 1970s all that changed. In one of the defining traits of the Sexual Revolution, the confines and strictures of the previous generations were traded for looseness and carefree abandon. Form-fitting turned into flowing as men and women accepted big shirts and bigger pants. If we go back to the idea of the thirty-year cycle, is it any wonder why platforms shoes, a popular trend during the 1940s, made such a huge comeback, and bell bottoms, influenced by those 1930s palazzo pants, became all the rage? As the 1970s sped forward, style became even more outlandish. Pants got wider and longer; shoes got bigger and taller. By the time of the disco era, it was as if fashion had become a parody of itself. Of our culture.
So naturally, there was a backlash.
With the 1980s and a “disco sucks” mentally, a shaped and carefully curated style came back into fashion. Sure there were still elements of the past that made their way forward (big jackets with bigger shoulder pads), but hippie blouses became tablecloths as women snatched up loud shirts and wide belts. Clunky platform shoes became novelties while Reebok became the “it” brand. Wide pants were cast aside in favor of tight pants that stopped at the ankle. And all that 70s hate trickled down to the middle and high school kids in the form of pegged jeans.
Before I embraced the 1970s late in high school, I despised it. All of it. And I especially couldn’t stand the clothing. Is part of that because I was made fun of in my thrift store 70s pants in middle school? YES. And since I didn’t have the sewing skills to fix said pants, pegging them was the next best thing. And I wasn’t the only one. Throughout middle school and into high school, nearly all the girls and some of the boys pegged their jeans. Their gloriously loose, multi-pocketed, acid-washed jeans. I had a particularly awesome pair of jeans that I cherished. Light blue washed, visibly white-mottled, with a fold-down waist. While I was always careful with my pegs – the fold always had to be the outside of your leg otherwise you just looked silly – I totally took extra time in the morning pegging those jeans. I mean, how else was I going to show off my double socks (pink/purple on one side and purple/pink on the other) and L. A. Gear sneakers?
Unfortunately, pegging didn’t always work with all pants. Loose, light fabric unrolled easily. Wide pants, like those 70s pants, though I tried my damndest, looked pretty wonky when pegged and bunched oddly at the knees. And I was never quite cool enough to try pegging dressy pants like some of the older kids did.
As the years rolled on and tight (still acid-washed) jeans came back into fashion, there was less need for the pegging. With that also came the acceptance of longer jeans that bunched at the tops of your shoes. (Which brought about a whole other morning ritual — getting the most perfect jean “slouches” at the ankles so that they covered your shoes’ heels without hitting the floor.) But I can easily say that pegged jeans, for me and everyone else in my small town, lasted into the nineties. But we eventually got over ourselves and warmly welcomed the return of wide pants in the mid 1990s. Or, at least, I did. And I haven’t really looked back since.