Is there any item of clothing that's been as mythologised as the perfect pair of jeans? There's a notion that once we've discovered them, our lives will be complete, and we'll be ready to take on the challenges that life throws at us. You will finally learn how to stack the dishwasher to maximum efficiency, your overflowing beauty stash will be reorganised, and you will remember the correct bin day without having to check your neighbour's. Of course, that's complete rubbish. Jeans don't really have that much power (if only). But they can make us feel great, and that can't be underestimated. However, thanks to our predilection for stretchy waistbands in 2020, it might be argued that this item's hold over us is waning.
Joggers, if the memes are to be believed, have become our new wardrobe norm, and working from home means looser fabrics are embraced for the long haul, which, in many ways, cuts denim out of the running when it comes to our daily wardrobes. But is that even true? According to global fashion shopping platform Lyst, searches for jeans are up 23% since January, indicating that, if anything, our love for this humble weave has only increased.
"At any given moment, more than half the world will be wearing this single textile."
The beauty about denim is that it can be whatever you want it to be, suiting your own personal style. It is worn by nearly everyone in the world. In an academic study by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, it was discovered that "At any given moment, more than half the world will be wearing this single textile." Denim is everywhere.
This year, Who What Wear has put together its first-ever denim report because we can see that, now more than ever, denim matters to us all. There are the trends to consider, of course, but what about the latest denim brands that are popular among those in the know? What about the denim icons that we’re still looking to for styling inspiration today? Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about denim right now and why it's set to be the big trend of 2021.
To understand the denim landscape of 2021, the first port of call has to be with trends. Where better to start than with the brand that’s synonymous with denim—Levi’s. I spoke to Jill Guenza, VP of women’s design at the iconic label, who revealed that the biggest trends are "'90s nostalgia and '70s earthiness."
This is echoed across luxury and high-street retailers. I’d hesitate to say that skinnies are over, as we all know that no trend ever really dies. It just lies in wait for the next time it becomes popular. Let’s just say, for many of us looking ahead, our skinny jeans have been lovingly put to the back of the wardrobe.
So what have we put in their place? Net-a-Porter tells me that the balloon leg is popular right now, as are jeans that have more stretch due to many people working from home. ASOS reiterates this by revealing that customers are moving away from skinnies and opting for mom-jeans styles and loose-leg silhouettes.
But denim trends don’t just apply to jeans. ASOS also revealed that denim shorts and dungarees are a burgeoning trend among their shoppers. Denim jackets over at Isabel Marant and Stella McCartney have the whole Who What Wear team talking, and Editor in Chief Hannah Almassi is particularly taken by this season's denim dress offerings.
When it comes to designer denim, it's more complicated than just your typical runway collections. There are two aspects here that are worth noting: your designers who use denim in collections and the cult denim brands. On the latter, it seems that every couple of years or so there’ll be a new, exciting brand for people to be into.
Right now, that accolade belongs to a few brands. Re/Done and Agolde seem to be worn by every influencer going. However, there's always a new brand to get excited about. MatchesFashion’s head of womenswear, Suzanne Pendlebury, tells me that "Made in Tomboy is a great new denim brand for spring/summer 2021. Their Claire shirt with balloon sleeves and pleat-front wide-leg Felisa Jeans are a personal favourite." The luxury retailer also revealed that the barrel leg is a strong contender for one of the biggest silhouettes of 2021.
As for the runway shows, it seems that every designer's S/S 21 collection was infiltrated by denim. Whether it was Victoria Beckham launching jeans in her mainstream collection or Ganni offering up a Canadian tuxedo or even Burberry splicing its classic trench with denim panels, there really is no escaping the material for this season and beyond.
There used to just be one question when talking about high-street jeans: Are you a Jamie or a Joni? Such was the prevalence of these two styles from Topshop that no other high-street store really got much of a look in when it came to more affordable denim. But things have changed, not least because skinny jeans are on the back-burner right now. This week, Lyst revealed that the most-searched-for jeans were a pair of crossover waistband, straight-leg Weekday jeans, quite a departure from anything remotely classic.
Look to & Other Stories, H&M, and Uniqlo and you’ll see affordable, well-made denim. Right now, most of the aforementioned brands are producing looser-leg silhouettes, flares, and straight-leg, high-waisted styles, indicating a move away from that classic early ‘00s look. ASOS, which has just acquired Topshop, has confirmed as much. While its Curve skinny jeans remain popular, the mom-jeans style and loose-leg silhouettes are where it’s at.
Despite nearly all fashion brands taking a hit in sales due to the pandemic, Levi's saw sales at the end of 2020 that beat its estimates—quite a feat when considering the impact the pandemic has had on clothing sales overall. According to Lyst, Levi's is the second most-searched-for jeans brand this past month. More proof that heritage brands are still going strong? Net-a-Porter is set to launch an exclusive collaboration between Levi's and Valentino in March, and Lee is collaborating with H&M this month. Clearly, well-established brands are here to stay, and if anything, they are becoming even more popular, with expansion into both high-street monoliths and power fashion houses.
Much like the world of sneakers, denim has its own community and "denim heads." There are websites, Facebook groups, and whole Instagram factions based around the material. However, it has, in the past at least, been dominated by men. I spoke to Kelly Harrington, a leading denim head and expert on the matter, about her role in the community and what it looks like today.
"Denim has traditionally been a very male-dominated space, but that’s definitely changed in recent years. It’s a much more open and inviting space for women than it was. There are so many wonderful women doing great things in denim and gaining the recognition they deserve. There are too many to mention! A lot of contemporary brands are also making product that is genderless and trendless, which encourages inclusion and equality. Women have always had great denim style, and that’s never going to change!" she says.
It's worth noting that in addition to finding like-minded people, you'll discover tips on repairing jeans and upcycling and exciting new brands that are starting to pop up. Harrington noted that her current favourite brands include the likes of Peppino, Jeanerica, E.L.V., and Boyish Jeans.
Photo:Getty Images; @fisayolonge; all other images courtesy of Victoria Beckham, Burberry, Marques ' Almeida
There is, perhaps, an assumption that denim is created predominantly by American brands. But right now, there's a shift happening in the UK. We're seeing more denim from British labels. There's Hiut, a Welsh label worn by Meghan Markle. There's also Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a denim brand based in London. But we also can't ignore the incredible denim creations by British fashion designers such as Marques ' Almeida, Stella McCartney, and Victoria Beckham that are out this coming season.
Pick your fighter. Are you a '70s flared goddess like Cher and Diana Ross? Or perhaps you're more into the Kate Moss skinny-jeans-tucked-into-boots look of the late '90s? Maybe Beyoncé's early '00s hipster jeans do it for you. Then again, it might be that 2021's denim superstars Katie Holmes and Hailey Bieber are the ideal inspo for your denim stylings.
Next up, The Biggest Spring/Summer 2021 Fashion Trends to Know