Kaarin Vembar is obsessed with the luxury and apparel markets. She also has a sassy mouth so her managing editor decided to give her a column in an attempt to harness insight for readers. Kaarin can be reached at [email protected].
We are venturing back to wearing hard pants.
Hard pants are the opposite of soft pants, or what we all gravitated to during 2020 as the pandemic waged on and we were all stuck at home and thought, "Why the hell would I ever wear anything with a zipper or a button?"
So we all donned athleisure and pj's and ate carbs because how else were we going to get any dopamine? In a year where apparel sales largely tanked, products that were cozy and stretchy took prominent placement in our closets. This is why Target's activewear brand pulled in $1 billion in its first year, why Lululemon continues to make bank, and why Crocs, like the monster Hydra in Greek mythology, refuses to die and if you try to get rid of a pair two more magically appear in your house.
But, denim. Denim may be the biggest apparel story for this year.
That's because we are starting to tiptoe back towards a reality that involves leaving our homes and engaging in life once more. (Although — disclaimer — all of this may be different when you read this. I had an entirely different intro to this article a week ago that was more along the lines of, "We're back baby!" and then the delta variant and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led to a fresh wave of concern.) Who What Wear in February even called denim the big trend of 2021, stating "now more than ever, denim matters to us all."
As we wade into uncharted waters, jeans are the item we seem to be returning to. They are comfortable (or comfortable enough), can go from one type of occasion or life moment to another, and are simply a great bridge product when life is uncertain. According to The State of Denim report by Trendalytics, 2 million people are searching the word 'jeans' online on a weekly basis — up 33% year over year. Comparatively, there are 940,000 weekly searches for work-from-home bottoms (defined as leggings, sweatpants and joggers).
Additionally, about 40% of the population is wearing a different size compared to a year ago, according to Maria Rugolo, director and industry analyst of apparel at The NPD Group. That means people need new apparel, including new denim options.
Yet, a jeans comeback is serving up some surprises.
If you haven't gotten the memo, skinny jeans are over. Or at least partially over. The truth is that we are having a real olly olly oxen free kind of moment where anything is acceptable because we have been contemplating our own mortality for a year and a half.
I've been waiting for us to collectively decide that we love ourselves enough to take a beat and temporarily put down our skinny jeans. We have spent way too much time shoving and stuffing ourselves into those things and we've been doing it since the 2010s. Every season I would think this would be the moment we could get another silhouette and a whisper deep from the fashion void would shout, "No girl." FOR. TEN. YEARS.
Then things changed, and they changed big. We boomeranged ourselves right back to the era of mom jeans.
And we are going to pause here so I can bring out the classic SNL sketch Mom Jeans.
You see all of that they were making fun of in the sketch? Yeah, that's what's in style now. Or at least we are seeing variations of those products and all the cool kids are wearing them.
According to Trendalytics, searches for looser fits have more than doubled from 2019 (up 101%) and are growing at an accelerated rate. People are looking for baggy styles, and when I say that I specifically mean "mom jeans" is what people are straight-up typing into their search bar. And that trend is forecast to last straight into 2022.
Which isn't exactly a huge surprise. Levi's has been talking about relaxing its fit for a while. In the company's latest earnings, CEO Chip Bergh said the baggy silhouettes that were launched pre-pandemic are continuing to drive growth. "It really took hold and then as the pandemic kind of started to happen, we just kept doubling down on it from one season to the next," Bergh said on an earnings call with analysts.
Levis, which fancies itself as leading the larger trend, does appear as number eight on a list of top 10 denim brands based on the number of average weekly searches compared to last year. The top three spots belong to Zara, Wrangler and Old Navy.
When it comes to that top spot, Zara jeans are being searched for 49,000 times a week, up 35% year over year. Trendalytics says the company "quickly adapts, pushing new silhouettes such as the wide leg jean ... into stores while styles are still on the rise."
Top 10 denim brands based on the number of average weekly searches compared to last year
Ultimately, as generations before, we will have to answer for our sartorial crimes. Years from now we will look back at pictures of us in those mom jeans and have to answer the question of, "What were you wearing?" Because jean styles, whether we like it or not, are a marker of time.
But that is part of what fashion offers — a sweet nostalgia. Of thinking of who we once were and what we were going through when we declared a trend over or decided to pick up a new silhouette. And venturing out of stretch pants to put on a baggy jean will hopefully be part of a larger story of how we found ways to adapt to changes largely out of our control.