high water pants

High Water Pants

80's Pants Jun 30, 2022

One decade, the higher the pants, the closer to God. The next, you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing high waters if your life depended upon it. Well in the 80s, high water pants were the former, not the latter.

high water pants
80s Fashion Trend: High Water Pants

What’s the hype about these high waisted jeans, and why were “high water pants” such a popular 1980s fashion? Let’s explore the history behind this look and how it came to be a cultural phenomenon of the time.

History Of High Water Pants

The moniker of high water isn’t specific to any particular style of pants. Traditionally, it was used in reference to pant legs where the hem falls above the ankle, a common annoyance among children who outgrow their clothes. In most contexts, this term has a negative association.

high water jeans 80s
“High Water” Typically Referred To The Length Of The Jeans Being High Above The Ankle
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That is until the 80s of course, when people began to incorporate this fit into their outfits. Interestingly, high waters are also referred to as clam diggers, capri cuts, and chinos, although these terms each have minor differences that make them different from one another.

Fun Or Functional?

It’s unclear exactly why high waters became popular in the 80s. The trend seems to have emerged in the late 70s, as many bell bottoms and flared pants had higher waists. Ripped jeans did catch wind about this time, and by the 80s people were eager to repurpose and distress their jeans. Perhaps, some made use of jeans they had long since outgrew and turned them into a fashion statement.

high water jeans
High Water Pants Can Be Traced Back To The Late 70s

This makes sense, as the leotard and minidress revolutionized the feminine silhouette in this time period. Extra care was taken to accentuate curves and the hourglass figure, and high waters did just that. An ordinary pair of jeans now lifted the figure and pulled the waist in, giving definition to the body shape beneath layers like wind jackets and other popular garments of the time.

Summer Style, Winter Wear

Anyone who loves the 80s (or lived in the 80s, for that matter), knows that high waters don’t just apply to pants. They apply to shorts, too! Biker shorts, daisy dukes, and varsity or dolphin shorts were all popular in the 80s, and variations of the high water style. By the mid 80s, clothiers and designers began incorporating higher waists and lower crotch seams into their work. This allowed for a better and more comfortable fit.

Unless someone were to wear these high waters around their normal waist, that is. Wearing high waters like a normal pair of pants would create a baggy look (somewhat akin to harem pants). Interesting enough, parachute pants made their appearance at the end of the decade, most notably in M.C. Hammer’s iconic music video.

Are High Water Pants Still Popular?

High waters quickly faded out of popularity by the early 90s. They stayed out of sight, out of mind until the early teens, where a young pop star brought them back to life. Wearing a pair of white Keds (another 80s staple), high waters, and a bright red lip, Taylor Swift ignited this trend all over again— and it’s yet to fade.

Do you think 2022 will continue to see high waters? Or are these pants fixing to face and all time low? Let us know in the comments below.

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