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Reports of the Skinny Jean's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Leg-hugging denim remains the most popular style, and it's not going anywhere soon.
Skinny jeans | Source: Shutterstock
  • Bloomberg

NEW YORK, United States — Sorry, haters. Skinny jeans aren't going away soon.

Figure-hugging denim has been a staple of women's wardrobes since the mid-2000s. Even as different styles saw fashion booms and busts in recent years, nothing has truly threatened the supremacy of the skinny. It's the essential style; all others are auxiliary.

Many have declared the death of the skinny jean. From influential fashion blogs such as WhoWhatWear to Internet hotsheets like BuzzFeed, skinny jeans are being called a fizzling trend. Nonetheless, no single style has yet been able to gain a following sufficient to threaten the skinny — much less dethrone it — and it's likely to be a while before one does. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking. "The skinny jeans trend just won't die," Jezebel lamented, back in 2014. Two years since, it still won't.

According to March data from trend forecasting firm WGSN, skinny jeans make up 54 percent of new full-price jean assortments in retail stores—the merchandise you see on typical store racks. No other style comes close.

"The skinny jean is not dead," said Sidney Morgan-Petro, a retail analyst at WGSN. "It just has more competition now."

That competition remains weak. Store shelves are actually selling fewer bootcut and boyfriend jeans than last year, at under 10 percent each. While flares have seen a large increase, to 11 percent, its still nowhere close to unseating the skinny. Slim fit jeans stand at 14 percent. The closest rival is the cropped style, at 25 percent. But that particular cut overlaps with many others, including the skinny. (Skintight jeans that stop mid-calf count as both skinny and cropped, for instance.)

Most retailers, if not all, still bank on the skinny to drive sales volume because that's what the masses demand. Street and runway styles pushing wider jeans have yet to convince the populace to switch. For instance, a recent trend in '70s clothes sparked a spike in flared jeans. The latest entrant is high- waisted flares cropped above the ankle, popularized by designer Rachel Comey. Fashion show catwalks last fall were chock-full of baggier denim but the style was less prominent just one season later, according to WGSN's runway show analysis.

It's not for lack of effort. Shoppers have lately had more kinds of jeans to choose among, as stores try to drum up excitement for new styles while ensuring they don't miss out on the next big thing. Some are worried that customers are bored with fashion because there simply hasn't been much to be excited about.

Take Urban Outfitters Inc. On a conference call with analysts this month, Chief Executive Officer Richard Hayne said a fashion “malaise” has beset the industry. Shoppers’ closets remain full of the various types of skinny bottoms that the company has continued to sell over the past decade. "We've had all varieties of skinny: low-rise, high-rise, color, black, white, and print, washed, sanded, sliced and destroyed, yoga and active, leggings, jeggings, and stretch," he said.

Lately, Urban Outfitters's Free People label has tried to push wider bottoms in an effort to stay in front of fashion trends. They still haven't caught on. "Surely, a major fashion shift is the cure," said Hayne. "I am not predicting exactly when that change will come, but I am certain it will."

The top women's style before the skinny proliferated was the bootcut: denim that widened at the calf and engulfed the foot. But that was a long time ago: You'd have to go all the way back to the early 2000s, an age of rhinestone-encrusted Juicy Couture tracksuits, popped collar polos, and Britney Spears in her pop star prime. The '90s were defined by higher-rise, straight-leg cuts that were roomier all the way down the leg, such as the iconic Levi's 501 style. In each era, one style dominated.

For now, the skinny's reign continues.

"At the end of the day, the skinny jean is still the top- selling, top-ranking, most stocked style," said Morgan-Petro. "And it's probably going to remain that way for some time."

By Kim Bhasin; editor: Josh Petri.

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