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.
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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, heralded the return of true denim back in 2014. And they 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 since then, too. ‘It used to be that a customer might find one style or fit they preferred and stick to that,’ says Topshop’s former 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, brands are expanding their jeans offering (for example Ganni launching a Levi’s collaboration) because we’re simply buying more and more (Net-a-Porter reported a 25% increase in denim sales year-on-year in 2020) and they are no longer skinny (Levi’s best-selling style is the 501).
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‘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 former 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 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, opting for pieces that work in our own lives, and not Kate Moss.’
Street (or Instagram) style, with an eye on sustainability, has reigned supreme over the last year. And, since we’ve barely changed from sweatpants for a while, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the women of social media and fashion week alike have turned to baggy ‘dad-style’ and vintage ‘mom-style’ style jeans for SS22 and AW22.
Plenty of embellishments, crazy styles and uncomfortable shapes are out of the door, with a premium being placed on classic shapes, without elastic, and perhaps with a small twist.
Barrel leg, straight leg, boot leg, asymmetric and baggy jeans are all big winners this year, as seen at Victoria Beckham, Celine and Gucci. And while low-rise jeans have been threatening a return for some time now (and may actually have done it in AW22), we’re thankful mid and high-rise jeans are here to stay for a while longer.
To find out exactly what the biggest denim trends of 2022 will be, we spoke to denim expert Kelly Harrington and Libby Page, Senior Market Editor at NET-A-PORTER, to learn more.
THE JEAN TRENDS TO BUY NOW
1. Upcycled Jeans
‘With the continued rise of environmental awareness, focus on circular fashion and sustainability, the upcycled and refurbished jean is a must have for 2022,’ Harrington tells ELLE UK.
‘Resourcefulness and frugality goes hand-in-hand with craft and DIY aesthetics: upcycle deadstock denim, patch up vintage jeans and get creative. Or, invest in a circular design with Ganni x Levi’s, B Side Jeans, Basscoutur, Children of Discordance, Ksenia Schnaider or E.L.V. Denim.’
How to style them? You have two choices: let the jeans do the talking and pair back everything else or, like fashion star Susie Lau, pattern and texture clash to your heart’s content.
2. Super Baggy Jeans
‘As a result of the current climate we find ourselves in, our homes have become the new office, so we’re now prioritising looser fits for comfort and wearability,’ Harrington explains.
‘A relaxed silhouette can be pleated at the waist or cinched with a belt. Opt for baggy wide fits like the WEEKDAY Ace High Jeans, RAEY Extra Fold Wide Leg Jeans or CLOSED Glow Up Soft Stretch Jeans.’
‘There has been a huge shift in our approach to denim since last year as we adopted a more relaxed sense of style,’ Page agrees.
‘Unexpected designers such as The Row, Peter Do and Loewe are excitingly using denim more frequently in their collections, offering effortless and relaxed 1990’s shapes across jeans, shorts and jackets. I love the cool dressed-down denim vibe consisting of faded washes, wide leg shapes and low-slung waistlines.’
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How to style them? Like Jeanette Madsen, we think you should go full 1990s grunge with Vans kicks.
3. Light Jeans
‘Easy, layerable and trans-seasonal. The neutral jean is naturally dyed or undyed and can be paired as a co-ord with matching items as a head to toe tonal look,’ Harrington says.
‘It’s a staple piece, and an easy way to elevate your denim collection. My favourites are from Bottega Veneta, Isabel Marant, The Row and Closed.’
‘There’s something ultra-chic about white denim – it’s a great alternative on the days you need a refresh and perfect for any minimalist that prefers their denim a little more paired back,’ Page tells ELLE UK.
‘It’s all in the styling here – Totême’s off-white pair look gorgeous combined with a simple nude vest, and Agolde’s slightly cropped version styled with leather sliders can help complete your ‘off-duty’ daytime look.’
How to style them? While Harrington is right – natural and white denim looks great as a head-to-toe ensemble – we’re also looking to Kat Collings’ look which mixes a pair with darker prints and textiles for the ultimate winter-appropriate outfit.
4. Straight Leg Jeans
‘This go-to fit and staple in every women’s wardrobe isn’t set to go anywhere,’ Harrington notes of straight leg jeans.
‘Look for new brands that focus on sustainable and planet-friendly washes and fabrics like BOYISH and I AND ME.’
‘From cropped and longer-seamed styles, one thing we all love about denim is its everlasting quality,’ Page says of straight-leg jeans.
‘It’s a practical everyday wardrobe staple and continues to be a classic that can be worn for every occasion whilst offering maximum comfort. Some of our heroes come from the likes of Citizens of Humanity, FRAME, Mother and Rag & Bone to name a few, and we are loving them now more than ever.’
How to style them? We love how Camille Charrière rocks her extra long straight leg jeans with a matching denim jacket, white vest and black boots.
5. Flared Jeans
‘The trend for nostalgic denim continues to gain traction,’ Harrington tells us.
‘Think low waisted 1990s flares and high-waisted 1970s boot cuts with matching crop tops. Take inspiration from Charlotte Knowles’ trouser shapes and shop Mother’s The Weekender or Wynn Hamlyn’s stone wash Denim flares.’
How to style them? Thanks to Gucci, you can really take flared jeans to the next level. Just like María Bernad, you can layer up your flares with dresses and platforms are a must.
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