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Name a more utilitarian fabric than denim — I’ll wait. The 150-year-old textile redefined fashion with its inception in the 19th century, making designers and consumers alike rethink their approach to everyday working-class clothing. While I always understood the appeal of denim, I grew up in a time when the trends they moulded into consisted of either extremely low-rise jeans that caused a slew of body image issues or excruciatingly skinny pants in bright colours that looked straight off the Candyland game board.
It was a different era, a time before Gen Z declared skinny jeans to be “over,” creating space for a more comfortable approach to denim. Yet, as a late millennial, I was skeptical of this move. Could there be such a thing as comfortable jeans?
Turns out, there is.
Earlier this year, after reporting on the comeback of low-rise jeans, wide-leg pants, and denim cargos, I struggled to understand my own approach to these trends. My disdain for jeans — thanks, 2010s — had grown so strong that I didn’t own a single pair of denim by May 2022. Still, the desire to have a pair in my wardrobe haunted me, not just because of their seemingly growing popularity (I refuse to admit FOMO!) but because of that particular need for high-low dressing that jeans fulfill. Wide-leg trousers — no matter how chic or casually styled — just don’t have the same informal appeal as denim jeans. And so, I decided this was the year I’d learn to love jeans again.
It all started with a pair of cargo jeans I was gifted by the Anthropologie team. The soft dark-wash denim sold me on the screen. Once I actually wore them, thanks to a few waist alterations by my mum (they were too big on me), I appreciated the baggy look this pair offered. Although I was afraid the cargo pockets would give my minimalist soul an allergic reaction, they looked surprisingly sleek. So far, they’ve proven as versatile as I hoped a pair of jeans would be: I’ve styled them with an olive green slip tank top, a white button-down, and a striped sweater. Most importantly, they allow my body to move with an ease skinny jeans never did, and for that, I’m grateful to Gen Z.
After cargo jeans proved to be a solution to my denim strike, I ventured into a little try-on session — this time in search of double-waisted jeans. In case you missed it, double-waisted denim is this year’s response to the ultra low-rise jeans we’ve had to endure over the past two years, consisting of an extra layer of fabric that makes it look like you have two pairs of jeans on. But, surprise! It’s just the one. I hit up a few local stores to try a few: an Eloquii number that featured a two-toned waist, as well as a Mango dark-wash version. While both appealed to my high-waisted millennial sensibility, the straight-leg shape proved that skinny jeans were the main obstacle to my relationship with denim. I didn’t buy any, but I’ll be back.
Still, the thing about denim trends that nags at me is the fact that, as functional as it may be perceived, denim is still one of the most resource-consuming and polluting fabrics out there, with nearly 7,500 litres of water needed to grow enough cotton to make a single pair. The way we pivot from trend to trend, low-rise to high-rise, makes it hard for people to stick to their denim for a lifetime. Instead of reaching for new cargo denim, why not visit a local thrift store for a vintage pair? And before we give away the denim we’re considering letting go of because it’s no longer in style, why not hold onto it, trends be damned? It may have taken a wave of trends for me to rethink my approach to denim, but it also made me realize that opting out of styles that make you feel uncomfortable — no matter the trends of the moment — might be a good way to forgo the accelerating cycle we’re living through.
As 2010s denim styles come back — yes, you read that right — I’ll stick to the jeans I now love, no matter the era. Be sure to do the same.