It’s hard to picture the ‘80s fashion scene without conjuring up an image of Madonna (aka, the decade’s leading lady) wearing acid wash jeans. But, what you might not have known is the style actually originated in California back in the ‘60s, when surfers’ jeans would become faded as they were exposed to the sun and saltwater. While the acid wash denim trend likely hasn’t been on your mind (or hanging in your closet) in recent years, that’s about to change — both luxury and contemporary labels alike are helping to put the style back on the map.
One brand pushing the envelope on the acid wash re-emergence is Sea New York. “I’m drawn to things that are nostalgic, but in designing the collection, I’m looking to push that feeling forward,” Monica Paolini, Creative Director and Co-Founder of the brand, tells TZR. “The washing technique softens both the texture and color we’re using in the pieces so they feel approachable and easy for every day.” In the brand’s collection, Paolini says you see the acid wash effect on silhouettes that incorporate more ladylike details such as cascading ruffles or puff sleeves — as seen on its Maura Jumpsuit and Dax Dress. “I’m hoping the combination feels fresh and less familiar,” she adds.
Then there’s MOTHER Denim, another contemporary label ushering in new elevated acid wash pieces, like it’s The Fly Away Ruffle Jacket and The Ruffle Mini Skirt. According to Tim Kaeding, Creative Director and Co-Founder of the Los Angeles-based label, the return of the acid wash trend is partly due to the fashion industry’s overall fascination with the ‘90s (yet another decade when acid wash had a moment). “People are wanting to have fun with the way they dress again and experimenting with washes is a great way to do that,” he explains.
As far as styling the denim today goes, Kaeding says, “I would pair acid wash pieces with a crisp white tee allowing for the wash to be the stand out of an outfit.” On top of that, as of late, street style stars are giving a lesson on how to make acid wash denim feel especially modern.
Not quite convinced yet that acid wash denim is back? Ahead, find five fashion girl-inspired ways to wear the throwback trend.
We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
If wearing acid wash feels daunting, try a cohesive tonal look. By opting for a jacket slightly lighter or darker than the color of your wash, everything instantly appears tied together. Then, if you want to throw a fun element into the mix, go for an eye-catching graphic tee. Finish off with simple black booties and you’re set.
An acid wash jumpsuit is an easy way to try out the trend. In fact, it requires very little styling, and you have a full outfit ready to go in a pinch. Opt for an iteration with puff sleeves and you can transition the piece from work to dinner. Accessories-wise, a pastel bag and fresh white pumps allow your one-piece to stand out.
Heads up, fashion risk-takers: Influencer Nina Urgell Cloquell is making the case for slouchy low-rise acid wash jeans. Follow her lead and pair the bottoms with flip flops and a cropped sweater to show some skin before the temperatures drop.
Not particularly keen on the low-rise comeback? Not to worry, you can still snag a pair of loose acid wash jeans at the waist or above for a similar street style-approved look.
Don’t be afraid to style your acid wash jeans for the office. Taking cues from the fashion girl above, the key to making the trend polished is sticking to the same color scheme. To start, if you choose a dark acid wash, team it with a black blazer, printed blouse, and booties. The real trick to make things look cohesive: Match your socks with the color on the print of your top.
Instead of throwing on your five-year-old denim jacket over and over, try something new this season with an acid wash piece. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, pair the outerwear with jeans for a 2021 approach to the Canadian tuxedo. Pro tip: Choose an oversized style so you can layer thick turtleneck sweaters under it in the winter.