How low can we go? I am talking, of course, about today's waistbands.
If you thought the belly-baring thing was bad enough, take a good look at the sartorial depths to which fashion has now sunk. The Los Angeles Times this week declared it "the summer of the pelvic bone." Last year's already obscene low-riders have gone the way of high-water polyester pants.
Today's hip-huggers have almost nothing but hope to hang onto anymore. The "normal" inseam-to-waist rise of 8 to 9 inches is shrinking faster than Britney Spears' record sales. To wit, Levi's has introduced a new line of jeans called "Too Superlow" for women. Upping the ante, or should I say lowering it, the teenage-girl brand Gasoline markets "Down2There" -- adjustable low-rise jeans with a built-in bungee cord designed to help the wearer drop her pants to even nastier nadirs.
Canadian teen singer Avril Lavigne's perilously sagging pants are a global youth phenomenon. "My butt crack showing is like my trademark," she gracefully explained to a music reporter. Salon.com writer Janelle Brown approves: "(T)he butt crack is the new cleavage, reclaimed to peek seductively from the pants of supermodels and commoners alike."
The late senator and social critic Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous phrase "Defining deviancy down" has taken on a whole new meaning.
Grownups, be forewarned: Avril's fashion nonsense is seeping into other markets. Levi's recently launched a "Dangerously Low" line for men. Another of its low-rise men's lines is dubbed, appropriately enough, "Offender." Actor Brad Pitt has popularized the Diesel brand low-risers. Toronto-based writer Jim Oldfield says the trend has overwhelmed mainstream men's stores and orders are already piling up for the fall. One Canadian merchant helpfully advised Oldfield that hip men are wearing the jeans commando-style.
In other words: "Underwear is, like, not required."
Even expectant women can't escape these drooping duds. Popular young actress and mom-to-be Kate Hudson has been photographed parading around in low-rise cargo pants and toddler-sized crop tops to show off her growing belly. At a recent trip to my neighborhood mall's maternity store, the only jeans in my size were ridiculous low-risers with flared bottoms that needed hiking every time I exhaled.
Trust me: This nouveau plumber's crack chic does not look any better on the overweight guy crouching under your kitchen sink than it does on a six-months-pregnant lady trying to bend over to pick up her toddler without mooning the world.
What will it take to convince the current cohort of exhibitionistas that sleaze is not sexy -- that less is not always more, that low is low-class? If Generation X-rated can't be persuaded to cover up out of moral necessity, perhaps they will listen to medical authority. A warning about the health hazards of low-rise pants was published in the Canadian Medical Asssociation six months ago. According to Dr. Malvinder Parmar, a painful condition called "meralgia paresthetica" is causing wearers of hip-huggers to experience "tingling or a burning sensation" in the thighs.
Dr. Parmar's treatment: four to six weeks in -- the horror! -- loose-fitting dresses. Must have been worse than swallowing cod liver oil.
Avril and Britney and Brad need to show their fans that a little extra fabric is not a death sentence. The late Kate Hepburn melted hearts while fully clothed in turtlenecks and roomy, belted trousers. She was a "hottie" who showed us her cheekbones, and left the rest where it should be left: to the imagination.
Alas, modesty has been long out of vogue. But it's a fashion rule of thumb that what's out eventually becomes in. The day when "clothed is the new naked" can't come soon enough.