By Julie Miller, Vanity Fair
Justin Bieber performing in a pair of his signature harem pants at the Victoria's Secret 2012 Fashion Show.
This weekend, a Justin Bieber apparel trend resurfaced that proved both impossible to continue ignoring, and even more distressing than his reported breakup with Selena Gomez. Specifically, Bieber's newfound commitment to harem pants, a supremely unflattering style of trousers that droop above the knee like an oversize diaper before tapering down to the ankle. The pop star has been seen in this particular style, widely associated with M.C. Hammer in the '90s, before, but this weekend, Bieber seemed to fully dedicate himself to the outré trend. On Friday night, the 18-year-old was photographed wearing the hideous pants after a reported fight with Gomez. (If the dispute was over the pants, we fully side with Gomez.) And on Sunday at the American Music Awards, Bieber proved his loyalty to the style by wearing one pair of quilted harem pants on the red carpet before changing into a leather pair of lipstick-red harem pants for his performance. Instead of continuing to castigate the teen sensation for his criminal taste in bottom-wear, we've opted to investigate its origins. Perhaps if we can understand and appreciate the history behind harem pants, we can learn how to support this latest revival. (Or at least not openly sneer whenever we see a photo of Bieber and the aforementioned pantaloons.)
Like Bieber's motivation behind wearing this passé style, the origin of harem pants is confusing. Merriam-Webster -- which, let the record show, defines harem pants as "women's loose trousers that fit closely at the ankle" -- traces the term to traditional garb in Muslim countries. Wikipedia credits India for conceiving the style, alternatively known as "Hammer pants" and "parachute pants." Fashion journalist Patty Huntington attributes the design to 19th-century male French-military recruits, who opted for the loose and airy trousers in the deserts of Africa. Meanwhile, Yahoo's History of Harem Pants notes that the style failed to catch on twice in Western society before 1910, at which time women wore the pants during active sports and physical education. In the late '80s and early '90s, as we mentioned, hip-hop personality M.C. Hammer made the conical cut popular, after adopting it as both a fashion statement and a means of moving freely during dance performances. Two decades later, in 2009, European clothing retailers such as Zara, Topshop, and Mango attempted to revive the style for women, but failed.
Although we are not sure when exactly Justin Bieber started wearing the pants, the similarly high-minded writers at USA Today have amazingly compiled "A Catalog of Justin Bieber's Drop Crotch Pants," noting that the singer's deviation from "pretty standard baggy black jeans" started sometime back in April. Bieber began wearing jeans with "more ample room in the butt and crotch area" onstage in June and then reached the last-level in drop-crotch evolution Sunday night, when he performed in pants that appeared to be vacuum-sealed around his lower legs. (His backup dancers, although dressed in similar outfits, were saved the humiliation of wearing the same style.)
Now if only we could understand why Bieber continues to stylistically self-shame. Your own interpretations of Bieber's unfashionable form of sartorial expression are welcome in the space below.
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