DENIM ON TREND
Denim’s New Look
Denim’s New Look
Blame it on the youth. As we emerge from the pandemic, right now is the perfect time for a wardrobe upgrade and—more specifically—new jeans. Through various TikTok videos, Gen Z has declared skinny jeans over in favor of high-waisted, loose-fitting jeans. You know them as mom jeans, but the notion extends to baggy styles and the ’90s puddle jeans with a relaxed, oversized shape that gathers at the ankle. Obviously, a major silhouette shift like this doesn’t happen overnight (keep in mind that skinny jeans have had a solid 10-year run). At the same time, we’re also seeing the resurgence of Y2K styles such as low-rise flare jeans paired with crop tops. The most interesting thing here is that youth is fueling this new denim cycle, and brands with these styles are most relevant even though, at this point, they certainly cause a generational divide.
While not everyone is in favor of high, loose jeans yet, one could understand how we got to this point from a few angles. After spending nearly a year in sweats, consumers are ready to go out and get dressed again. While jeans are inherently casual, they’re also a big contrast to joggers and feel more elevated as a departure from elastic waistbands. Now, take that familiar relaxed shape from your favorite sweats and apply it to denim. The roomy fits of these Gen Z–preferred jeans feel almost like a natural progression from the living room to the street, and they’re actually quite comfortable.
A Whiter Shade of Pale
The washes that we’re seeing accompany these new shapes tend to gravitate toward lighter, almost whitened, blue shades. Recent Resort and Spring ’22 collections from denim brands such as Diesel and R13 continue to explore pale indigos in washed-out styles. From a mill perspective, leading suppliers specializing in these softly saturated denims like Bossa and Azgard-9 do so with state-of-the-art laser or bio-enzyme finishes for a low-impact stonewashing-esque outcome. As a novelty alternative to lighter washes, we’re also seeing colored and all-over-printed denim tap into dopamine dressing and the desire to stand out. Washes explore festive outcomes in bleached or acid-dye effects, and elsewhere canvases are beginning to adopt either overdyed or softly tinted colors.
Today’s consumers are strongly motivated by sustainable initiatives, and contemporary denim brands are taking stock with new alternatives emerging as the ideal choice for eco-conscious buyers. Often criticized for its high water, energy and pesticide use for growing cotton fibers alone, denim is quite the sustainable challenge. However, the latest denim offerings from mills Tejidos Royo and Candiani are committed to a more mindful approach and instead boast lowered chemical processing, water usage and CO2-emission outputs. In part, sustainable denim has never been so popular because there has never been such variety.
Now we’re seeing mills experiment with undyed raw canvases, recycled elastomeric fibers, laser-distressing treatments and organically derived dyes that can look and feel like your favorite pair of jeans without the added environmental guilt. Heritage brands such as Wrangler have devised foam-dyeing techniques that cut down on energy usage by 90 percent, while contemporary brands like Armed Angels work directly with fair-trade farmers to create zero-toxin styles, appropriately dubbed “detox denims.” It’s also worth noting that, from a fiber perspective, sustainability is top of mind. Biopolymers derived from regenerated cellulose, corn, beet and sugarcane are picking up steam as is the use of lyocell and hemp-fiber yarns from brands like AG to offer a resilient yet low-impact alternative.
On the luxury end, recent denim collaborations have achieved buzz and generally increased the relevance of denim in ready-to-wear. Levi’s has successfully teamed up with Ganni, Miu Miu and Valentino to drive buzz and newness that stay true to each brand’s individual aesthetic. Special touches include prints, embroidery or reinterpretations of iconic Levi’s jeans. Universal Standard also features a limited-edition capsule collection called Erdem with an inclusive size range from 00 to 40. Perhaps most surprising is that at the Fall ’21 couture collections, Schiaparelli and Balenciaga both featured couture denim, bringing denim to made-to-measure pieces. While the luxury consumer is a far throw from Gen Z, the continuing casualization of RTW within denim shouldn’t be underestimated.
With sustainability in mind across generations, we’re seeing an uptick in vintage, secondhand and reworked denim. The Gen-Z consumer is an avid thrifter and enjoys the hunt for something unique—cue those vintage Levi’s or authentic aughts low-rise jeans at Depop. New York–based brand The Series caters to this market with one-of-a-kind pieces like vintage denim with custom embroidery or stitching. Reworked denim is the strategy behind RE/DONE, where vintage Levi’s are upcycled into modern fits. While RE/DONE is digitally native, it’s also one of the few brands to open stores during the pandemic—a testament to its mindful and circular ethos, which resonates with customers. More luxury brands are embracing dead-stock materials in their collections too, such as Etro’s bohemian patchwork denim for Resort ’22, proving that the best denim only gets better with age.
In what still appears to be a challenging time for our industry, denim offers newness and excitement not only from a shape perspective but with sustainable processing and an uptick in vintage relevance. New silhouettes clearly resonate with Gen Z, though it will likely take some time for other generations to try something new. In the meantime, lighter washes, trend-right collabs and reworked denim should provide a welcome departure from loungewear as we venture out more.
Fashion Snoops is a global trend-forecasting agency helping leading consumer-facing brands around the world unlock innovation and propel growth. Through a combination of human and artificial intelligence, we analyze cultural shifts and interpret detected patterns in order to surface trend-driven business opportunities. Learn more at www.fashionsnoops.com.