In high school, there was that one special pair of jeans that I deemed the coolest: DKNY dark-wash, frayed-hem pedal pushers with pink rhinestones on the back pockets and no waistband. For 14-year-old me, these were the crème de la crème of my wardrobe. As a 34-year-old, I look back in horror. Who permitted the denim trends of the early aughts to creep into existence? The relaxed jeans of the '90s were perfectly fine (as evidenced by their revival and current popularity), but the following decade, not so much. And now, 2021’s Gen-Z approved denim trends are proving just how far youthful fashion has come.
From my freshman year all the way through college, the denim industry seemed to undergo an identity crisis. Contrasting the classic blue jeans that were commonplace throughout the 1990s, television shows like The Simple Life and The O.C. featured actors in everything from hip bone-baring jeans to denim Bermuda shorts and culottes to circulation-cutting skinnies. It was only a matter of time before these trends took flight and teens near and far were adding these off-kilter styles to their own closets — myself included. It was an odd period of fashion that I'd be happy to leave in the past except now when I observe the Gen-Z youth of today, I'm left with one thought and one thought only: I did not look that cool when I was younger.
Denim Trends When I Was Growing Up
Low rise, flares, and super skinnies as seen on Beyoncé, Sienna Miller, and Lindsay Lohan.
Though some aughts trends have reemerged, I’m happy to say that super-low-rise denim has yet to make a comeback. Instead, a quick sweep of the current landscape proves there's a returned desire for comfortable, relaxed jeans. I tapped fashion analytics company Trendalytics to see if my suspicions were accurate and its statistics are, indeed, validating. The average weekly searches for 'baggy jeans' have gone up 207% in comparison to last year and on TikTok, #baggyjean has 428.7 million views. 'Dad jeans' are a related trend that, according to Trendalytics, tends to sell out quickly, too.
‘90s Denim Comes Back Around
The high-waisted, relaxed styles of the time are back again.
Though relaxed silhouettes are brand new for the Gen-Z set, they harken back to denim of the ‘90s — my first introduction to them. It was a decade spoilt for choice with style movements like hip-hop, grunge, and minimalism taking center stage, and women including Kate Moss, Lauryn Hill, and Drew Barrymore helping to define the zeitgeist. All three culturally driven aesthetics offered their own iterations of the looser silhouette — mid-rise jeans crafted in versatile blue washes and in effortlessly cool cuts like baggy and straight-leg. These 30-year-old details are all things we’re seeing reemerge with the Gen-Z style stars today.
Gen-Z’s Modern Approach
A new era of young trendsetters are bringing back relaxed denim in a polished way.
It’s unsurprising that the digitally native younger generation has ushered in a new era of cool denim that nods to the past. They have access to endless inspiration online, and much of their aesthetic is imbued with nostalgia, including early 2000s non-denim trends that encompass the ‘Y2K’ fashion genre (small sunglasses, belly chains, platforms). To me, the Gen-Z vibe includes the relaxed, cool pieces of the ‘90s combined with the playful palette of the early aughts — best of both worlds. With a new wave of style stars like Millie Bobby Brown and Yara Shahidi illustrating that a pair of mid-rise, relaxed-fit jeans are cool and versatile, it gives me hope that denim from my teenage years was merely a fluke, a thing only to be remembered in photos (the kind I, personally, will be keeping tucked out of sight).
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