by Glynn Pogue
On Catcalls, Rocawear, and the Search for Curve-Friendly Denim.
I was thirteen when Ms. Jacqui told me the news, “You a got a little booty on you, Glynn,” she said.
A family friend who worked in finance, wore shiny red acrylics and kept her hair buzzed real low for ease, Ms. Jacqui was straight no chaser. She was known to tell you some real shit, often between long drags from a Newport 100.
“Really?” I’d asked, trying to look over my shoulder for a glimpse. I’d been so preoccupied by my lack of boobs that I hadn’t even noticed this recent development.
““Mmm-hmm. We built the same,” she said knowingly. “That means you gotta watch out for these men out here, them dirty lil’ boys at your school, too. Don’t let ‘em talk slick to you, touch you, or get to your head. And when you ready, imma give you the jeans I ain’t wearing anymore—it can be hard out here for girls like us.”
5’6 with thick thighs and hips, Ms. Jacqui had body. The array superstretch jeans she regularly wore accentuated it. That day she was in a pair customized in that very early 2000s type of way: across the butt was a splattering of rhinestones resembling a shooting star, and most of the thigh was bleached to a yellow-white—including a hazy set of tiger stripes just below the front pockets. They’d fit her perfectly, hitting the small of her waist just right. She wasn’t even wearing a belt. Something I’d later learn was no easy feat for “girls like us.”
I felt both special and tainted by Ms. Jacqui’s message. Suddenly, I possessed this thing other people yearned for, men and women, alike. My friends didn’t have boobs or butt. And though I might’ve been flat-chested, at least I had “a little booty on me.” It made me feel closer to that distinct, grown Black woman confidence Ms. Jacqui had. The kind she’d exuded when she’d stood up and modeled her jeans for me that day. Still, I kept wondering about her warning. What did she mean about the men and boys? What did I need to watch out for?
I was a Freshman in highschool when I decided I was ready to flaunt my assets. I was feeling myself in that rebellious teenager kind of way, and was convinced I was grown, or at least grown enough to dress like I was. I’d go home and watch 106 & Park and fantasize about looking like a video vixen, doing a slow motion walk up my block, rocking fly-ass form-fitting jeans that would accentuate my curves, the way Ms. Jacqui’s had. I set out in search of the perfect pair.
I flirted with Levi’s for a hot second, because it’s what I’d seen on billboards. But those were a no-go; the hard, non-stretch denim never fit over my butt. And if I found a pair that did, the waist was huge and the leg was at least 3 inches too long. It was okay though, because back then it was really all about Baby Phat, Lady Enyce and Rocawear.
My mother’s hair stylist had a connect who sold brand name jeans that “fell off a truck” for half the price. I got every pair he had in my size. But even though they were “urban brands,” those jeans never seemed to fit me quite right either. They had a fair amount of stretch, but I had to pull them up every 5 seconds, or else they’d start slipping down and sagging in the crotch area. What’s more, after a few wears the thin material started disintegrating, especially where my thighs rubbed together. The waistband remained a problem; my ass crack was always hanging out. Belts were no help; I was always jamming pens through the leather to add extra holes. But even if I rigged a belt to fit my waist, there were never enough actual loops on the jeans to hold up what I was working with.
I had a brief moment of relief when Apple Bottom jeans were released. They felt like a brand designed for girls like me, and actually fit really well (Nelly was onto something). But I couldn’t really get down with the apple-shaped pockets, early 2000’s or not. The only solution I found was to be sure every shirt I owned was long enough to cover the upper half of my butt, so I didn’t go around showing my plumber’s crack to everyone. It was a mess.
I felt so awkward, so uncomfortable, in my clothes. And by extension, in my body. It felt like more of a burden than it did a gift, like I once thought it was. Maybe that’s what Ms. Jacqui meant when she’d said it could be “hard out here.”
None of that seemed to matter to men, though. They wanted to “drink my bathwater,” and “take me out to eat." I was, apparently, always someone’s “future ex-wife,” or their “ma,” or their “baby.” Sometimes I was just “shorty with the fatty.” It was a daily norm; men posted on stoops called out to me as I walked to the train, they reached for my hand as I exited the bodega. Most days, depending how awkward I was feeling about my body, I clung to their glances and catcalls for affirmation. I anxiously waited for them call out to me, to tell me I should feel good about my body, just because they liked looking at it. I relished the attention, and felt I had no choice but to continue dressing the way I was if I wanted to keep getting it. It didn’t matter if the clothes made me physically uncomfortable. Plus, what else could I wear and still be “on trend?”
It’s taken me almost a decade to find an answer. In that time, I spent a long stint shying away from jeans altogether. Standing under fluorescent lights in fitting rooms, sweating as I tried to squeeze my body into jeans that were too small—or worse, frowning at my reflection, as I tried on oversized pairs that made me look frumpy—had become too much. So had the catcalls. I realized that, in most cases, these men didn’t actually wanted to pursue me. They just got off on the action of shooting their shot. Furthermore, what did it matter what they thought of me if I didn’t actually believe it myself?
It was a two-year stint spent teaching in Cambodia, that cemented everything. Comfort and functionality in dress were crucial there, and nobody was checking for me when I walked up the road on my way to the market. It was there that I learned the joy of actually being able to move in my clothes. It was also there that a required modest dress code had me fantasizing about returning home and wearing pieces that would hug my frame and highlight my femininity, without squeezing and constraining it.
As a teenager, I’d wanted so badly to feel womanly, sexy, confident and “grown.” But what I also needed was comfort, in every sense. In truth, much of the shame and frustration I felt towards my body growing up was a direct result of the fashion industry telling me I couldn’t have it both ways. Not to mention a culture—especially within hip-hop—that depicted a hyper-specific, and hyper-sexual, way that women with bodies like mine presented themselves, and the way we were consumed.
Thankfully, within that decade, society and the denim industry has begun to have somewhat of an awakening, too. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. And now that I’m actually grown, I know the benefits of having a good tailor snatch in a waistline if I need to.