What It's Like To Wear Low-Rise Jeans As A Size 20 Woman

Finally, I got to live out the Delia’s fantasy that skipped me the first time around.

Written by Sarah Chiwaya
Blogger Sarah Chiwaya wearing a pair of low-rise jeans from Hollister in a collage

If you told me a couple of years ago that I’d one day be wearing low-rise jeans (in front of a camera, no less), I would have laughed. Because until two weeks ago, I was certain I’d fully opt out of this early aughts look. As a plus-size blogger, trying buzzy trends for my readers is part of the job, but I drew a hard line at this one — and that line cut right across my belly button, no waistline allowed below it.

But lately, low-rise jeans have become a focal point for fashion discourse, the debate being whether the resurgence of Y2K trends brings with it a return to the old skinny-is-best beauty standard. So when asked to actually wear the trend for this article, I agreed, but was skeptical at best. The idea was way outside of my comfort zone.

Turns out, finding actual low-rise jeans in actual plus sizes is nearly impossible. As a Chronically Online millennial, I had seen some styles, but most had either sold out or were no longer available in my size. ASOS, for example, only stocked one pair of plus-size low-rise jeans — out of 94 pairs. As I scoured the Internet for a single option, I felt a realization forming: The Y2K trend itself might not be inherently fatphobic, but the market sure is.

Target was one of the only places that offered true plus sizes, via its in-house brand Wild Fable. With a rhinestone butterfly on the hip, they felt a little too on-the-nose for me, but they were the only pair that looked as if they might fit. I sized up, crossed my fingers, and placed the order.

When the jeans arrived, I was simultaneously relieved they fit, and baffled at how they fit. This pair was explicitly billed as low-rise, but when I pulled them on, they sat right at my natural waist, with the fly about 2 inches over my belly button. Everything else about the style — the light wash, the flare, the giant bedazzled butterfly — screamed Y2K, but the rise was solidly 2020s.

To achieve the sought-after exposed-navel look, I had to yank the waistband down my hips, causing an awkward wrinkle in the zipper. And even though I’d sized up, my attempts to make these low-rise jeans fit true to their name made them bisect my belly uncomfortably. I tried to make the best of it through some Y2K styling: a collared halter, tall Madden slides, and a baguette bag.

It was actually a fun look to wear. I got some *looks,* but, as a plus-size person not dressing to hide, that’s par for the course. Finally, I got it live out the Delia’s fantasy that skipped me the first time around. (As an 11-13 in juniors sizes, nothing fit me as a teen.)

Because fit is everything with this trend, I wasn’t content to stop with a pair that was low-rise in name only. I get most of my clothes online but started casting my proverbial net wider. To my surprise, the exclusionary mall brands of my youth ended up being my best in-store experiences.

I tried Abercrombie’s low-slung dad jeans and liked the fit so much that I ordered a pair in faux leather for the fall. And while my plus denim favorites like Madewell and Levi’s had nothing low-rise in plus, I was stunned that Hollister not only made low-rise jeans in sizes up to the equivalent of 20W, but had them in store, in stock. Finally, a pair that fit the way I wanted: loose and low.

Since I went full-on Y2K with my first look, I took a modern approach for the second, pairing the low-slung, straight-leg jeans with a fiery fuchsia crop top and my favorite oversize white button-down. With mules, hoops, and rimless, crystal-studded sunglasses, it felt like the perfect, eminently wearable blend of retro and now.

Wearing this outfit, I realized I’d actually, successfully incorporated the low-rise trend into my personal style — and found myself getting excited. I grew up in the era when this cut was only for the thinnest of thin, and if you wore them with anything less than exposed hipbones and washboard abs, ridicule was sure to follow. In hindsight, it feels obvious that the trend was more about body checking than clothes.

It doesn’t have to be that way now. Creating a low-rise look that I legitimately love has been healing to teenage me, and also a delightful middle finger to anyone using fashion to shame fat bodies. You don’t want to see a plus-size woman in low-rise jeans? Deal with it.