Denim’s not dead. (Not that you’d know it from the headlines.) Despite some media outlets sounding the death knell for denim, global sales of jeans are actually on the rise. So although some statistics – like a 30 per cent fall in Levi’s revenue over a couple of decades (as highlighted by this Bloomberg report late last year) – might suggest we’re done with the original blue collar fabric, it’s simply not the case.
But denim is changing. Feeling the heat from athleisure’s blazing success, jeansmakers are changing tack, introducing stretch to iconic styles (Levi’s 501s is first in line for a refit) in an attempt to stop ceding ground to fashion’s current stretch-friendly, everything-elasticated approach.
Jeans might be adapting to trends, but they haven’t stopped trending. “There are two factors that ensure denim remains a core part of most men’s wardrobes,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at MatchesFashion. “Firstly a pair of jeans is incredibly versatile, and there is a lot of choice in the market both at price point and in style. But secondly there is an incredible heritage to denim – jeans have been worn by icons like James Dean through to Sid Vicious and this adds to their appeal. OK, the ‘rebel’ element of a pair of jeans may have been distilled somewhat, but they will always be associated with youth and street culture, which endures across generations.”
As with any enduring men’s staple, each season means subtle tweaks to the winning formula. So to ensure you’re not lagging behind (remember bootcuts?), we’ve spun this handy new-season denim guide.
Wide legs might’ve gained a foothold where trousers are concerned, but in denim, slim and skinny fits continue to reign supreme.
Cheap Monday, the Swedish brand known for its sewn-on skinny denim is this season re-launching its original skinny fit, Tight, while other brands continue to roll out spray-on stretch-skinny styles where once only stiff, tough-as-nails denim ruled.
“Slimmer and skinny cuts continue to dominate for men,” says Richard Hurren, vice president of Levi’s Northern Europe. “As a result, we’re seeing that men are getting used to stretch jeans and increasingly demanding higher stretch styles.”
Hence Levi’s reinventing the 501s for the first time in their 143-year history, adding elastane to both its original 501 and 501 CT jeans.
Tired of your jeans turning you Smurf-coloured? Good news: this season there’s a less dye-heavy alternative to raw denim that won’t mean having to wash your hands every time you put them in your pockets.
“We’re seeing a return to really authentic faded washes that take inspiration from the late 1960s and 1970s as people look for pieces that have a bit more of a vintage feel to them,” says Hurren.
Think Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy or, you know, your dad. But rougher around the edges – with a healthy dose of distressing, patchwork, rips and frays. “This sort of style tends to appear on skinny jeans and works far better with an oversized tee or sweat and sneakers,” says MatchesFashion’s Paul.
As front-and-centre as faded styles are – and despite the current trend for stretch – OG jeans (OJeans?), like unwashed straight-leg indigo and black styles, still sit at the core of any solid denim line-up.
“As soon as the weather gets colder, the washes get darker,” says Niels Mulder, denim designer at Edwin Jeans, who advocates syncing your denim with the seasons rather than trends.
“I would certainly recommend a pair of indigo or black jeans in either a slim or straight fit,” says MatchesFashion’s Paul. “This sort of style works when worn with a blazer or fine knit, loafers or a pair of Derby shoes.”
Bells and Whistles
The rise of athleisure might’ve seen menswear skew minimal in recent seasons, but some of fashion’s most feted designers are fomenting change – starting with denim.
Take Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, for example. Although best-known for the pussy bow blouses and silk pyjama suits he’s sent down the runway, it’s the designer’s off-the-wall embroidered denim that appears to be impacting the bottom line. “The [denim] styles we bought – a pair [of jeans] with hand-painted blooms and another pair with a snake and flower appliqué – have sold incredibly well,” says Paul.
The high street has been quick to pick up on the trend, with the likes of ASOS, Zara and Topman stocking embroidered or patched denim for AW16. Granted, it’s not a look that’ll sit pretty in every man’s wardrobe, but worth a punt if you want to stay ahead of the pack.
More statement-making than status quo in your style moves? Then ditch the usual denim suspects for the new forward-thinking cut that’s flying off the shelves.
“[A fit that’s] cropped, with a slight dropped crotch is emerging for AW16 and is much more flattering than it sounds,” says Paul. “Ami has a version in washed out blue, while Off-White has [a similar cut] in both washed out black and blue, with frayed hems.”
On the less spenny end of the spectrum, Cheap Monday also offers its new cut In Law this season: a medium rise, tapered fit rather humorously inspired by the idea of borrowing your significant other’s mum’s jeans. WTF, right? We get it. But these are actually a lot cooler than their name suggests, and perfect for tube socks-and-trainers looks.
“As part of Lot No. 1 [Levi’s bespoke service at its flagship London store] you can get fitted for a pair of jeans by our Savile Row-trained tailor, and choose everything from the denim to the buttons to the colour of the thread,” says Richard Hurren.
Think about it. At most, you wear a suit five days a week, and while, sure, a bespoke suit is something every man should strive for in life, it’d be remiss to make that suit your office uniform. But tailored jeans, well, at the least you’ll get three days of wear (including Casual Friday) per week, and at most, you can wear them every single day of the week. (Without having to worry about wearing them out.)