Boyfriend jeans, mom jeans, straight-legged, flared, distressed, embellished, embroidered, cropped, rolled or finished with a raw or asymmetrical hem… anything goes, as Phoebe Watt discovers.
Mufti-day, 2004. I was sitting in my first-period sewing (sorry, ‘textile technology’) class, wearing the same indigo-wash denim flares as everyone else in my entire peer group, and far from being miffed, I felt great.
When you’re 14 years old, fitting in is all that matters, so my socially sanctioned sartorial choice filled me with a sense of calm. Little did I know that in approximately six minutes, the most popular girl in Year 10 would walk through the door wearing a pair of black Lee Supatubes and turn my world upside down.
I mean, skinny jeans? Seriously? Until then I’d known them as stovepipes, and only because my dad would occasionally resurrect his ’90s versions with a pair of 8-Eye Dr. Martens while I begged him to put on something more ‘cool’.
The irony, I know. But then, my version of cool was dictated by what I saw on The OC every Friday night, and Marissa Cooper was still rocking hip-hugging bootleg jeans like no other.
Predisposed as I was to this kind of fashion idolatry, it’s, of course, no surprise that when the Marissa of my high school started wearing skinnies, I went straight out and bought myself a pair. And then another. And so began a relationship that has lasted well over a decade.
That’s right. My name is Phoebe Watt and I still wear skinny jeans, flying boldly in the face of terror-inducing headlines like ‘These jeans are OUT, according to experts’ (WhoWhatWear); ‘Calling time on skinny jeans’ (Vogue UK); ‘Bye bye skinny jeans?’ (Stylist); and ‘The skinny jean is dead’ (Elle UK).
But it isn’t only me. Not to call our authority into question, but in any given week, you can count on every member of the Fashion Quarterly team to wear their favourite skinny jeans at least once. Maybe we’re the least fashionable people in the fashion industry right now.
But it’s more likely a sign of the democratic denim times we’re living in — notwithstanding the sponsored clickbait articles preying on female insecurities to sell product.
Think about it. Unlike the tectonic shift that occurred in the early oughts — or, for that matter, any and all previous eras when seemingly overnight the fashionable jean of the moment was usurped by another — there isn’t one specific style that’s currently in vogue.
Boyfriend jeans, mom jeans, straight-legged, flared, distressed, embellished, embroidered, cropped, rolled or finished with a raw or asymmetrical hem… anything goes. Wear what you feel good in, what flatters you and what you like, seems to be the directive from fashion’s powers that be, and brands are saying it’s about time.
“No one wants to be pigeonholed,” says Jonathan Cheung, head of global design at Levi’s Strauss Co. “So it’s great that denim trends are as fluid as we are these days, and you can now be whoever you wish with a simple wardrobe change.”
The question is: how did we get here? Jamie Blakey, founder and creative director of Australian label One Teaspoon, thinks social media has a lot to do with it.
“It’s great that denim trends are as fluid as we are these days.”
“With hundreds of thousands of people a day putting their takes on trends out there on their blogs and Instagrams, it’s creating a cool mix of inspiration for everyone.”
But Richard Bell, co-founder and marketing director for Australian brands Neuw, Rollas and Abrand, believes that it’s less to do with social media and more to do with recent social events.
He points out that denim culture and youth rebellion go hand in hand, “and in the last couple of years there’s been a real uniting of brave, like-minded people all around the world, spurred on by things like Brexit and the Trump administration. It’s brought together lots of groups of people and created a kind of melting pot, and we’re all tapping into that.”
This doesn’t mean that brands are diluting their signature aesthetics and churning out numerous styles, fits and washes in an attempt to appeal to every single customer. “You can’t be seen to be flip-flopping all the time,” says Richard, adding that now more than ever, the brands that are rising to the top have “a true proposition and direction”.
In agreement is Johnathan Crocker, vice-president of global communication at California-based denim brand AG, who says that with denim part of our everyday wardrobes, customers are becoming more discerning. “So it’s even more important for brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors.”
Several brands have realised that they can have it both ways by reinventing their classics — like Levi’s, who last year released a remastered version of their signature 501s, the 501 skinny.
“Design is about observing people and seeing how they change their values and expectations and working those observations back into the product,” says Cheung, who observed that women were squeezing themselves into small men’s vintage 501s to achieve a slimmer fit.
“Our brand partners RE/DONE and Off-White Virgil were also doctoring vintage Levi’s to make them skinnier, so the logical conclusion was that we should do that ourselves.”
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Levi’s also reintroduced its Orange Tab collection. First launched in 1969 against a backdrop of widespread political and cultural turbulence (“Does that sound familiar?” asks Jonathan), original Orange Tabs have become the ultimate score for vintage collectors.
“When the Levi’s design team is collecting these things, it’s a signal,” says the designer, who expects products from the updated Orange Tab collection to reach this same level of desirability.
Of course, with all this focus on reinventing, remastering and referencing the past, one wonders what denim’s future looks like. Will the counterpoint to this denim free-for-all we’ve been enjoying be a return to prescriptive, restrictive trends?
Blakey thinks not. “Denim’s in a great place right now,” she says. “People are wearing it well and experimenting with ways to style it, which is leading them to want different and more exciting denim options. And now that we’ve all opened up to this way of thinking, it’s here to stay for a while.”
Perfect for denim chameleons, it’s also excellent news for someone like me whose living hell is shopping for new jeans.
Sure, the day will probably come when everyone else on team FQ finally ditches their skinnies and a denim intervention is called to save me, but until then, you’ll find me repeat-purchasing my go-tos online from the comfort of my own bed. And I’ll be in good company, too.
“I’m always drawn back to skinny jeans,” AG brand ambassador and another of my fashion idols Alexa Chung told InStyle.
“For a second, I felt like they were out of the picture, but when winter rolls around and you’ve got a big jumper on, all you want is a lean silhouette down there. I think skinny jeans will always be a perennial classic.” Hey, if it’s fine by Alexa, it’s fine by me.
Words: Phoebe Watt
Photos: Getty Images
This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 2 2017.