Shopping for jeans just got a lot easier. That unforgiving, leg-hugging style has made way for a looser look
I have vivid memories of my mum wearing classic Levi’s jeans (501s, specifically) – stonewashed, high-waisted with a button-fly and loose tapered legs in signature thick denim – throughout my childhood to do the gardening or take the dog on a muddy walk. These were the ‘mom jeans’ before mom jeans became a thing.
As I hit adolescence, when replicating Kate Moss and Sienna Miller in their super-skinny Sass & Bide ‘Misfits’ (remember those?) became my ultimate goal, I would tease her about how ‘dated’ her pale Levi’s jeans were. ‘They’ll come back around one day,’ she’d say, like all mums do. She was right: they did. Now her single pair of life-worn Levi’s make me look like the dated one. I own 24 pairs of jeans – and every single one of them is skinny. After years of riding high, this style is now the bedridden former rock star of denim, clinging on for dear life as it watches its younger, peppier counterparts steal the limelight. Sure, Kate Moss is still wearing them occasionally, but she’s Kate Moss and I, sadly, am not.
What used to be my fail-safe outfit, the staple that formed the basis of every single look I wore, now makes me feel lumpy and overexposed. No matter what I pair them with, the proportions somehow feel all wrong.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. ‘As I get older, it’s not about showing off skinny legs, or figure-hugging clothing – feeling comfortable in my clothes and in myself is more important,’ says fashion editor and The Frugality blogger Alexandra Stedman. ‘Plus, the denim styles at the moment are moving away from slick silhouettes to more relaxed and voluminous – and I love that.’
Parisian writer and creative consultant Camille Charrière, agrees. ‘It was very hard to get out of skinnies, especially being French, but now I find it hard to get back into them. I think it comes with being a certain age – you look more rock’n’roll in skinny jeans, but more elegant in boyfriend jeans,’ she says, adding that she finds the best jeans courtesy of Levi’s, Monki and H&M.
But where did it all go wrong for skinny jeans? ‘Jeggings ruined them,’ says Donna Wallace, ELLE’s former Accessories Editor, who favours a pair of Lee straight-leg men’s jeans that she’s cut off at the hems. ‘As soon as they started bastardising the denim and putting in too much stretch, it became trashy.’
Not to mention, that the elastane you find in your typical pair of skinny jeans or jeggings is unrecyclable and deeply bad for the planet.
Our perception of what looks cool has shifted, and though I’m a little miffed to realise that the skinny jean isn’t, as I had previously thought, my denim life partner, it’s a sign of a greater shift in fashion, and that is always exciting.
Brands such as Vêtements, the Parisian underground collective turned game-changing fashion powerhouse, and London-based Marques’Almeida, have heralded the return of true denim. They’ve reminded us of a pre-skinny golden age when it was thick, stretch-free and more of a statement than just an off-duty staple. Think Farrah Fawcett on that skateboard, Thelma and Louise mid-road trip, Jane Birkin in her spliced and re-stitched flares.
The way we shop has changed, too. ‘It used to be that a customer might find one style or fit they preferred and stick to that,’ says Topshop Buying Director Emma Fox, ‘but now they are building up their jeans wardrobe with different shapes, cuts, washes and finishes according to what they want to wear that day.’
Proof? From high street to high end, we’re buying more jeans than ever before, with price points across the board. Net-a-Porter had been reporting a 25% increase in denim sales year-on-year, and for a while couldn’t keep Vêtements’ now-iconic style in stock, despite its eye-watering £790 price tag. Meanwhile, ASOS saw sales up 47% in the course of three months a few years ago, when the skinny jean began its demise and has sold an incredible 12,000 pairs of its washed blue ‘Farleigh’ Mom jean, priced at just £35.
The influence of street style on this is undeniable and the result is that we are seeing trends emerging upwards from the street to influence designers, rather than the other way around,’ says Lisa Aiken, Net-a-Porter‘s Fashion Director.
The street-style phenomenon, made possible by the growth of digital and social media over the past decade, means that we now have endless inspiration at our fingertips. We can see how real people make clothes and how trends work for them in real life, rather than solely through the creative filter of a major fashion house. This has undeniably made us more adventurous, more confident and far more attuned to our own personal style. In turn, we’re now more diverse in our denim choices, and far less likely to head sheep-like into a mass trend.
And while voluminous styles have reigned supreme for a few years, their latest incarnations for this season (and next) are more deconstructed. From sweeping selvedge denim styles in indigos and rich blues, we’ve now seen the emergence of paler styles and the best jeans for the coming months? If you’re prone to trusting Dior (and aren’t we all) then the Dior Cruise 2021 show heralded a 70s-inspired nostalgia for patchwork denim.
Are you ready for the patchwork denim return?
By Bibby Sowray