A New ‘Denim Cycle’? After a Decade, Jeans Move From Skinny to Loose

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The trend is not confined to Levi’s, which lays claim to inventing the blue jean in 1873. Madewell, the popular retail chain owned by J. Crew Group, has also been seeing enthusiasm around looser fit jeans and balloon pants, even among skinny jean acolytes, which is viewed as a turning point for the fit.

“The people who were really long holding onto skinnies are like ‘Oh OK, I’m going to crawl over to the other side and do something,’” said Anne Crisafulli, Madewell’s senior vice president of merchandising.

Madewell, which is known for its jeans, has been coming up with styles that help customers transition to the looser fit in a bid to provide “training wheels for people coming out of skinny,” Ms. Crisafulli said. Customers seem to want “looser and more comfortable” denim going forward, she added.

Mr. Bergh noted that pandemic-related weight gain could be driving interest in the jeans, as some people look to update their closets.

Levi’s, based in San Francisco, saw its revenue tumble 23 percent to $4.45 billion in 2020, as many retailers saw sales fall as stores faced temporary closures and customer habits shifted. Sales also dropped in the first quarter, which ends in February, but Mr. Bergh noted that was before vaccines had been rolled out in the United States in a “big way.” He said he was optimistic about a denim resurgence.

“As people think about going back out, they’re thinking about what’s the look now, and they’re going to our website, they’re going to other websites, looking at fashion magazines and seeing looser, baggier fits be the new trend,” Mr. Bergh said. “The fact that people are liberated and can finally go out to dinner with their family or girlfriend or boyfriend — it gives them an occasion to kind of upgrade their wardrobe, update the look and splurge a little bit on themselves, and I think that’s what we’re seeing.”

And still, even if looser denim is the look of the 2020s, that does not mean the disappearance of the skinny jean.

“I don’t think skinny jeans are ever going to go away completely,” Mr. Bergh said. “People are mixing it up, and women in particular are having multiple choices.”

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