Rethinking The Skinny Jean
It could be argued that just a few short years ago, men’s fashion and style as we know it didn’t really exist. Of course, men still wore clothes and seasonal runway shows took place, but there wasn’t the same desire to dress well, the same need to be stylish or the same hunger to be up to date on all the latest trends.
With fashion being an industry that is far from normalised, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of items have caused no small amount of controversy over the years. Skinny jeans have been polarising since the beginning, becoming the trademark piece of many a teenage subculture. But rather than burning out, they have held their own and are now firmly entrenched within almost all sartorial circles.
That said, gone are the days of the pointy-shoed, skin tight indie musician or the fringed, emotional teenager. To maintain their favoured position, the way we wear skinny jeans must adapt and evolve, moving with the times and working with emerging trends.
So how should we be rethinking our approach to the skinny jean?
For ease of discussion, we’ll categorise the skinny jean into two separate groups. Of course, there are multiple variations in fit depending on brand, material and cut, but in general they can be divided into ‘spray-on’ and ‘standard’.
Spray-on styles typically contain a high proportion of stretch elastane, are tapered close to the leg all the way down (essentially clinging to the skin) and have a very narrow ankle opening. Standard styles, on the other hand, are usually made from 100 per cent cotton, or may have a small percentage of elastane weaved in for comfort. They don’t taper down the leg quite so dramatically and have a slightly wider ankle opening.
With these parameters in mind, establishing which style, if any, will suit your body type should be your first consideration. However, we will preface our advice by saying that as long as you feel comfortable and confident then the world is your oyster – you may wear whatever you wish. The following is simply a guide for those who remain unsure.
Spray-on jeans should be firmly restricted to a lucky few: those men blessed with well proportioned, well maintained bodies.
Choosing to wear such revealing clothing without seeming try hard or compensatory can be extremely tricky – if you have a well-built upper body but small, slim legs, spray-on jeans will make the contrast appear even more extreme, while if you are tall and skinny they will only emphasise a lack of bulk and size, creating a lanky silhouette without real definition.
At the other end of the scale, if you’re legs and waist are big, the areas holding onto a few extra pounds will be highlighted for the world to see.
Spray-on jeans draw attention to every single imperfection and there is absolutely no hiding from the fact that they are still a statement piece. You need to be both confident in your body and personal style in order to pull them off successfully.
How To Wear
First and foremost, avoid the ‘all tight everything’ trap that many men seem to fall into. Skintight tees should be replaced by regular-fitting styles that have a little more room in the body, or even a slim-fit tee a size up from normal, for those looking to channel AW14’s big anti-fit trend.
Be realistic with your aesthetic – spray-on jeans are overwhelmingly casual and don’t mix at all well with smart tailoring (standard styles work much better). However, sports luxe or streetwear-inspired pieces are perfect for combining with spray-ons – think bomber jackets, longline tees/shirts, sweats and fashion trainers.
Also consider: monochrome colour palettes – black, grey, navy and white with just one or two pops of colour; contrasting weights and textures – heavy wools and leather juxtaposed with lightweight jersey/cotton; and playing with the overall silhouette – oversizing or asymmetric fits with chunky knits and boxy outerwear.
Outfit Inspiration: Sports Luxe
The muted, monotone colour palette utilised below makes this look very wearable. It forgoes the ostentatious in favour of simple, versatile pieces that work great individually and fit seamlessly together to create a forward-thinking outfit.
A single shot of rich, winter colour adds life to the darker tones and a longline tee breaks free from the cropped bomber and sweatshirt, diversifying length.
The quilted bomber adds a layer of textural separation between the tonal elements of this look, while some classic slip-on trainers and simple accessories keep things practical and comfortable:
Outfit Inspiration: Oversized Outerwear
Raglan sleeve overcoats are relatively new, but they are just the thing if you want to make a splash this season. Neutral shades of grey and navy will help you control this statement fit, but you could equally tap into AW14’s big pattern trend by introducing a subtle houndstooth or check.
Spray-on jeans offer a great counter point to an oversized jacket (remember the importance of good legs) and the mid-blue wash pair below will stand out against the lighter coloured coat.
Smart shoes with a solid sole finish off this ensemble:
Recommended Budget Brands: ASOS, H&M, Topman.Recommended Premium Brands: AllSaints Razor, Nudie Long John/Tube Tom/High Kai, Levi’s 510s, Acne Thin
Unlike spray-on jeans, standard skinny jeans are much more versatile. The slightly wider leg and less pronounced taper allows tall, slim guys to achieve a sharp silhouette while maintaining a balance between height and width. For those with big upper bodies and smaller legs, standard styles place more focus on the outfit as a whole rather than just the bottom half.
Sadly, for bigger guys even standard styles are too tight, with the severe leg taper unable to accommodate any additional weight, be it muscle or fat. Balance and proportion is hugely important when it comes to skinny jeans and the larger gent would be better off choosing slim-fits that offer a similar close cut while flattering the figure much more effectively.
It is worth bearing in mind that depending on the size of your legs, even standard styles can produce the appearance of spray-on jeans. For those with bigger thighs, carrot fits (try Nudie’s Thin Finn or A.P.C’s Petit New Standard) will up the comfort factor without compromising your streamlined silhouette.
How To Wear
A key consideration with standard styles is the severity of the lower leg taper. Certain brands will taper their designs more than others, which can push them towards a spray-on. The width of the ankle opening also has a surprisingly big influence on the overall aesthetic of the jeans.
Tight openings look best matched with trainers and slimline shoes, while wider openings are more likely to be able to accommodate boots and chunkier footwear – the wider opening helping to balance the weight of the shoe with the slim cut of the trousers.
Unlike their spray-on cousin, standard styles are much better suited to combining with tailoring and integrating into formal, structured ensembles. Offering clean lines and a fitted appearance, the overall effect is smart, refined and understated, rather than an extreme, in your face statement.
As the temperature drops, match the weight of your denim with heavy wool, tweed and herringbone blazers in rich, earthy tones of grey, brown, burgundy and green. Solid dark indigo jeans will set the foundation of many of your autumn/winter looks but lighter washes can help brighten your outfit and make it stand out – just avoid anything overly distressed.
Overall, standard styles offer a lot more flexibility to the wearer in terms of the different types of aesthetics they can create. The only question is: how tight do you want to go?
Outfit Inspiration: Cold-Weather Smart-Casual
A pair of slim/skinny indigo jeans matched with a grey double-breasted blazer, white shirt and textured tie is a great semi-formal look that makes the most of the sharp trousers by keeping everything else tailored and well-cut.
A formal shirt and tie retains the structured edge while the dark jeans allow the double-breasted jacket to take centre stage. Throw a parka over the top for those really cold days and wear with some good, chunky-soled shoes:
Outfit Inspiration: Worker-Inspired
Worker-inspired looks are fantastic at this time of year. With rugged fabrics, a focus on layering and a pair of tough winter boots, the unchangeable weather we tend to experience during autumn is handled with ease.
A flannel check shirt is an autumn/winter essential that adds a touch of Americana to any outfit, while a shearling-lined jacket is on-trend and offers warmth without becoming stifling.
The long-sleeved tee brings additional depth and texture to the look and a pair of lighter wash jeans helps tap into that traditional, vintage, blue collar aesthetic.
A good pair of boots is a must here, so choose something rubber-soled and hard wearing. Roll up the jeans a couple of times to reveal the details or add a pair of chunky socks as a stylish alternative. Finish off with a knitted beanie or baker boy cap:
For many men, skinny jeans have long been a wardrobe essential – and it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon. But as fashions change so do our clothes, and the ones we keep have to adapt.
Thinking of new ways to wear your existing staples is one of the most important skills any well-dressed gent should learn. With that in mind, how would you rethink your skinny jeans?