After a 15-year skinny cycle, wide jeans are back

High-rise, loose-fit jeans are the “it” look right now, according to the CEO of Levi’s.
High-rise, loose-fit jeans are the “it” look right now, according to the CEO of Levi’s.
Image: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The skinny jean is being pushed aside by a roomier new silhouette, following a 15-year reign that began when it supplanted bootcut jeans in the mid-2000s.

Jeans with a looser fit and a higher rise have already been gaining popularity for a few years. Now they’re registering substantial sales at mass-market denim leaders such as Levi’s and American Eagle Outfitters, suggesting it’s more than a niche trend. Wider jeans are officially mainstream again.

Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh has talked about the growing appetite for more relaxed fits over the past year. On a call yesterday with investors and analysts to discuss the company’s recent performance, he said the shift was one of the factors driving a “denim resurgence” he believes is industry-wide.

“It is clear to say that it is a big trend,” he said. “If the ‘it’ look now is this high-rise, loose-fit jean—and that’s true for both men’s and women’s, by the way—it gives them a reason to go out and update their wardrobe.” Two styles of men’s jeans Levi’s considered discontinuing just a few years ago—the 550 and 559—saw sales in the quarter jump 50% compared to last year, he said.

🎧 For more intel on fashion trends, listen to the Quartz Obsession podcast episode on puffer jackets. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.

In March, Jennifer Foyle, chief creative officer at American Eagle, said the company has noticed a shift among shoppers toward looser fits. She predicted a new fashion cycle in denim was underway, a sentiment CEOs such as Richard Hayne of Urban Outfitters and Fran Horowitz of Abercrombie & Fitch have also voiced. “There’s a shift now in denim and in fashion, which is exciting for that category,” Horowitz said on a call in March. “The skinny jean is becoming less important.”

Generational shift and a pandemic trend toward comfort

Relaxed fits have been gaining popularity among fashion-forward shoppers for some time, offering a fresh look after so many years of skinny jeans ruling. Accordingly, designers and luxury companies such as Balenciaga that prize themselves for being on fashion’s leading edge have been making denim with baggier fits.

But other factors are now helping to move wide-legs into the mainstream, including the growing buying power of young Gen Z consumers, many of whom don’t think skinny jeans are as cool as their predecessors did. In a recent survey of 7,000 US teens, investment firm Piper Sandler asked what the top fashion trends were among females in school. Leggings topped the list, with 23% of respondents calling them out. But “baggy/saggy pants” and “mom jeans”—generally a high-rise style with a looser fit—were numbers two and three, named by 9% and 8% of respondents respectively.

The pandemic may be accelerating the turn toward fuller silhouettes too, pushing comfort even further up shoppers’ list of priorities.

Levi’s itself has been peddling the high-rise, loose-fit look Bergh talked about since at least 2016, when it introduced the accurately named “Wedgie jean.” Though Bergh has also noted skinny jeans are still an important part of Levi’s business and may not fully disappear.

In our fragmented universes, with algorithms to help us curate what we see on social media and the shows we watch online, trends aren’t as monolithic as they used to be. Skinny jeans can conceivably coexist alongside their slouchier cousins, just in a diminished role. That is until the day they’re more popular again.