Which came first, The Lion King or the parachute pants?

The Lioness Dance in The Lion King.
Photo: Joan Marcus

The Lion King, Disney’s classic animated film-turned hit Broadway musical-turned Mandalay Bay show, is about family, redemption, strength and coming of age. It is a touching story, of course, infinitely relatable in its struggle-denial-acceptance-triumph trajectory, but I found myself fixated on a more tangible element of the production at a recent performance: the costumes.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to wax enchanted about the wondrous masks or the incredible innovation of Julie Taymor’s designs, which transform people into the animals of the Serengeti without hiding the humans. They’re amazing, yes. But what caught my eye was a less revolutionary costume element, in fact, it was down right retro: parachute pants.

Oh, the infamous parachute pants! Baggy at the top, narrow at the bottom, they are totally practical if you’re, say, prone to hip sweat and likely to be walking in deep mud. While many an ‘80s survivor thanks their lucky leggings that they emerged from the decade with little photographic evidence of their MC Hammer fashion impersonation, the damn pants are back. And not in the ironic sense. (Note: On a recent episode of Chelsea Lately MC Hammer admitted to still having the pants that made him famous – or vice versa – but said he doesn’t wear them in public.)

Saggy crotch, anyone?

Saggy crotch, anyone?

In a prime example of trend ridiculed then redeemed, the puffy trousers have pulled a platform shoe and made their way back onto runways, retail racks, and even the Vegas stage. Politely renamed “harem pants” (One size fits the whole harem!), the reincarnated fashion statement was all over runways at last fall’s New York Fashion Week. The Associated Press credited an unnamed French fashion editor for influencing us all the way across the Atlantic, but I have another theory, one that traces its origins all the way back to Broadway.

When the musical adaptation of The Lion King premiered on Broadway in October 1997, it brought not only a Hans Zimmer score, Tim Rice lyrics and Elton John’s music, but also a cast that roamed the Pride Lands in only the chicest of retro urbanwear: loose at the thigh, tapered at the ankle, parachute pants.

Of course, this was more than a decade before the things would start popping up under the guise of high fashion, but consider the following: The Lion King costumes didn’t merely bring an ‘80s classic back onto the stage, but also preceded a number of runway and retail trends. The tribal, African-inspired prints that populate the show’s clothing are now trickling down from high-end retail to your local Forever 21, and newly popular hats topped with artificial grass show how a look can work as a set piece and fashion statement all at the same time. Oh wait, those aren’t in style.

Give it six months.

Based on the fashion-forward track record of Mandalay Bay’s newest entertainment offering, I’ve added a few things to my next shopping trip. First on the list is a beaded corset much like the one Nala (played by the gorgeous Kissy Simmons at Mandalay Bay) wears nightly on the casino stage. When that’s done maybe I’ll pick up a lion-shaped mask/hat. I’ve got even money on them popping up all over the runways at Gucci and Proenza Schouler. After the para, ahem, harem pants have run their course, that is.

Photo of Sarah Feldberg

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