STYLE / FASHION : Hugging is Back : Hip-Huggers Are Back, and These Days You Don't Have to Be Daring to Wear Them

Hairline. The word alone was enough to make me blush. It described a certain style of pants, the sort that reached only as high as, well, you-know-where. Like the jeans worn by the older sister of a friend of mine in junior high. Ginger was her name, and she was just the kind of girl you'd expect to wear pants that rested you-know-where: tall, thin, gorgeous, with excruciatingly beautiful honey blond hair that fell down to there. Racy, just like those pants.

It was the early '70s, and hip-huggers were hot. Designers had taken the idea about as far as it could go (remember elephant ears?) until some genius thought up hairline pants. The zipper was practically an afterthought, about as long as a girl's pinky finger, maybe a dozen teeth, tops. The pants rode so low that you wondered how the dang things stayed put when the wearer sat down. To me, the whole notion was pretty scandalous. It must have been to a lot of folks. Ginger is the only person I can recall who was brave enough to wear those jeans.

I hadn't thought about hairline pants until I saw Madonna wearing those now-ubiquitous low-slung satin Guccis, and my mind flashed on Ginger. To be honest, the image didn't really register beyond the nostalgic. I figured hip-huggers were just one of those blink-and-you-miss-it fashion whims, you know, like vinyl dresses and go-go boots. But here we are, a whole season later, and darned if those pants haven't strut their way down practically every runway on both sides of the Atlantic. It's a veritable retro riot, with incarnations by everyone from Calvin Klein and Todd Oldham to Gianni Versace, Alberta Ferretti, Vivienne Tam and Chanel. And lest the look is confusing, Donna Karan even attached tags to her versions that read: "This skirt has been designed to be worn below the waistline so it's slug across the hipline."

And darned if I'm not actually ahead of the curve this time around. By accident, of course. My seemingly prescient purchase was nothing of the sort. Granted, we don't have to tell anyone else that I bought this particular pair of pants because they were ... sensible. Let's just let everyone assume I'm livin' right there on the edge. But just between you and me, the real story goes something like this:

Some months ago, I lost some weight and decided it was time to ditch my only pair of jeans, a once-classic, now pathetically unflattering version of Girbauds I bought back in 1985. Convinced I could finally do justice to Mr. Strauss, I grabbed two good friends, guys, and went shopping. (You want a few experts along for the ride.) I must've tried on two dozen pairs of jeans, in every style imaginable, from classic cut to slim fit to boot leg. From Levi's to Gap to J. Crew, from Big Sky to Buffalo to Banana Republic. Nothing worked. Not that I was surprised. The reason I hadn't bought a pair of jeans in 10 years is that I'm just not built for them. My hourglass figure is closer to five minutes, which is to say that when God was passing out waists, he handed me a chest instead. Even minus the extra weight, my proportions seem unsuited to anything resembling a 501.

We hiked from dressing room to dressing room, but the result was always the same: My friends would look me up and down, spin me around, shrug and say the jeans looked OK. Not great, mind you, just OK. Sorry, guys, but this time OK wasn't good enough. This time I wanted ... hot.

Once the novelty of actually being encouraged to stare at a woman's butt wore off, my two friends bailed. But I pressed on, determined and just a little desperate. I reached for a pair of Calvin Kleins, held them up and realized they were low-slung; "hipster," the tag read. I instinctively started to put them back. I'm no Ginger. Then I realized I had nothing to lose. I put the jeans on. They didn't sit as low as God or Calvin intended, but they felt good and fit in all the right places and there was no denying that they looked ... hot.

Even my two friends approved. Turns out you don't need an hourglass figure to wearhip-huggers. They sort of create one for you, as long as you don't have any major bumps to get in their way. And turns out hip-huggers aren't just hip--they're also smart for a short-waisted gal like me.

Take that, Ginger.

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