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.
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, creative consultant and ELLE UK Contributing Editor 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 investing in their jeans offering (M&S has made their wearable Spring denim range from more sustainably sourced cotton, while Bottega Veneta famously sent Kate Moss down their SS23 runway in a pair or jeans made of leather) because we’re simply buying more and more, and they are no longer skinny (Levi’s best-selling style is the 501).
‘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.’
Street (or Instagram) style, with an eye on sustainability, has reigned supreme over the last year. And, after the great loungewear years of 2020 and 2021, 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 AW23 (and beyond).
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.
Wide leg, denim cargos and low-rise jeans are all big winners this year, plus, we see the return of the midi and long denim skirt, as seen everywhere from Khaite to Mother.
To find out exactly what the biggest denim trends of 2023 are, we spoke to Libby Page, Market Director at NET-A-PORTER, to learn more.
THE JEAN TRENDS TO BUY NOW
1. The Forever Jean
‘We saw designers like Matthieu Blazy reinstate luxury in everyday dressing and reinforce the message that Bottega Veneta is the destination for elevated essentials for SS23,’ Page tells ELLE UK.
‘A classic cut and wash will stay in your wardrobe forever and can be dressed up and down so seamlessly. I love Agolde and Goldsign for slightly more trend led styles, and TOTEME do great classic straight leg fits that are timeless.’
How to style them? Classic mid-waisted, straight leg jeans are forever because they are truly the most versatile of trousers. Going out? Add heels and a sheer top. Heading to work? Pair with loafers and a relaxed button down. Need we go on?
2. The Low-Rise Jean
‘Featured in over half of the shows at fashion month, this is a clear continuation of the Y2K trend we first saw take hold for Spring Summer ’22,’ Page explains.
‘We have some classic yet trendy styles from Khaite, Magda Butrym and Gauchere this season.’
How to style them? We know low-rise jeans can be intimidating (we’re a little intimidated ourselves). But low-rise doesn’t have to mean belly-baring. See how Pernille Teisbaek makes her positively Y2K-style trousers feel modern and grown-up with sleek accessories and colour-drenching.
3. The Wide-Leg Jean
‘One of our top searched styles and customer favourite, wide-leg jeans are here to stay for this year and are super versatile to style,’ Page says.
‘I love pairing them with platforms to elevate and dress up for occasions.’
How to style them? As we said, grunge is back in a big way this year. But if Dr. Martens aren’t your thing, try flipping the script and pairing with ballet flats. You might be pleasantly surprised.
4. The Denim Cargo Jean
‘Featured by almost a quarter of all designers showing during fashion month, this style taps into this idea of practicality – investing in long lasting, durable, yet cool styles that will see you through from work to weekend,’ Page says.
‘These come in handy when you want to dress practically and stay comfortable. They are also a clever option when you want to experiment with different colours in denims! Agolde and Mother straight-leg cargos stand out to me.’
How to style them? Try smartening up denim cargo pants (since the hybrid trousers can read ultra-casual) with more refined other elements, or, lean in (like Gigi Hadid does here) and take it to full slouch.
5. The Denim Skirt
‘We are heralding the denim maxi skirt as a key denim trend for SS23,’ Page tells us.
‘At NET-A-PORTER we have invested in nine styles from both the runway and true denim brands, working hard to scout out the perfect fit, length, and wash for quality over quantity.
‘The 90’s, be that grunge or minimalism, is firmly returning to fashion. Interestingly denim skirts are already the most searched item including the word ‘denim’ at NET-A-PORTER. Tibi and Frame denim skirts are currently some of my favourites on site.
How to style them? Possibly our favourite day-to-night staple around, a long denim skirt with do some major heavy lifting in your wardrobe.