Its reign has been decades in the making.
Like all fashion trends, the shapes and silhouettes of jeans cycle in and out of favor. Depending on who you ask, skinny jeans, low-rise, and high-waisted jeans are either loved or hated. But among all the adored and derided denim styles, one has quietly emerged at the top this year: baggy jeans.
The return of this slouchy, oversized silhouette isn't just exciting because it's on trend. A brief glance through the evolution of baggy jeans proves that this style, perhaps more than any other, is inclusive, subversive, and just plain cool. Find out why ahead.
Baggy Jeans in the '80s and '90s
Back in the day, baggy jeans were, quite literally, boyfriend jeans. "The 'loose' and 'baggy' fit originated with a men’s fit and trend," says Vivian Rivetti, Wrangler's Global VP of Design. In the '80s, Wrangler called this style "the Fatty," and was one of the first and biggest brands to deliver "a wide and comfortable fit that, by today's standards is considered loose and baggy."
While baggy jeans were an everyday menswear staple, they truly popped off in the '90s thanks to the music video for "U Can't Touch This."
"Baggy jeans really hit the scene as a hip-hop staple when MC Hammer debuted his Hammer pants," says fashion expert and editor Bella Gerard. "The concept of a harem-style silhouette done in denim began as a staple amongst rappers and skaters first, but it didn't take long for mainstream celebrities to favor this edgy, oversized take on an Americana classic."
It wasn't long before brands from J.Crew to Calvin Klein drew inspiration from these subcultures and brought slouchy jeans onto runways and into shopping malls. Playing up the androgyny that would become an iconic element of '90s fashion, designers delivered near-identical baggy silhouettes for men and women.
To the beat of hip-hop tracks and skateboard decks, loose-fitting jeans danced their way to the forefront of fashion. Every brand was about that slouchy life, including Wrangler, which developed a new loose-fitting silhouette for all genders. "Wrangler Hero introduced the ‘baggy’ fit for young people in the mid-'90s, presenting the jeans on skateboarders to connect to the youth movement," says Rivetti.
Y2K's Slouchy Jean Slump
Between the first baggy jeans boom in the ‘90s and the style’s reemergence in 2023, the baggy silhouette continued to be a staple in the music scene, especially among women. While celebrities in other industries shucked off their slouchy jeans in favor of skinnier styles that kept the low-rise waistband but lost the roomy fit, a few fashion renegades like Rihanna and Avril Lavigne kept baggy jeans going into the early aughts.
Despite their efforts, the ladies who brought us "Sk8er Boi" and "Disturbia" couldn't keep baggy jeans afloat. But by the time the new millennium hit its teenage years, it was skinny silhouettes and high-waisted mom jeans as far as the eye could see.
Now That's What I Call '90s, Too!
The '90s denim influence can certainly be felt in 2023. According to data analyzed by experts at Boohoo, searches for "baggy jeans" on Google have surged 52% worldwide in the past 12 months, while searches for "boyfriend jeans" have increased 71% this year alone. Whatever you call them, loose-fitting, slouchy jeans are undoubtedly having a moment.
Celebs like Hailey Beiber and Emily Ratajkowski are all about the baggy silhouette, and fashion brands are launching their fall lines with the '90s in mind. "We dove into the archives for our fall collection to find the best baggy styles," says Laura Deady, Senior Managing Director of Buying at Urban Outfitters, of the brand's latest campaign.
While oversized has been one of the brand's core silhouettes since the decade in question, its new styles, Logan and Jaya, add a touch of personalization, courtesy of the waistband. "We wanted a fit that allows the customer to size up to wear it dropped and slouchy or size down to wear it more fitted," Deady says. When both a Gen Z-approved brand like Urban Outfitters and a heritage denim brand like Wrangler are rereleasing a silhouette, you know it's made a comeback.
Out with the Old, in with the...Old
In some ways, baggy jeans actually have skinny jeans and mom jeans to thank for their rise to prominence this year. "Given that Gen Z associates millennials with skintight skinny jeans, it's no surprise the younger fashion set is gravitating towards all things baggy denim," says Gerard, reminding, "The look has always been a fashion rebellion of sorts!"
Along with the next generation of fashion girlies rejecting the trends of their forebearers, outdated ideals about who exactly gets to participate in fashion have been kicked to the curb. "Those of us who saw the trend take off in women's fashion in the '90s recall that the silhouette was almost always paired with rock-hard abs and an itty-bitty tank top — which begged the TikTok-beloved question: Is it a 'fit, or is she just skinny?" Gerard points out.
Instead, she says, "The younger generation of shoppers and designers are striving to put emphasis on style, not size." As a result, all sizes can get in on the trend. "The styling is no longer limited to a 'revealing on top, baggy on bottom' approach, although the 'little top, big bottom' silhouette is still a fan favorite," she continues.
The rejection of outdated ideas about who can wear what doesn't just extend to women of all shapes and sizes. More traditional gender roles have also been shown the door, and genderbending is alive and well in the clothes we wear.
Part of the style's popularity may also be related to our new era of post-pandemic dressing, which is still playing itself out. Dopamine dressing emerged after lockdown, with the idea of finding joy in clothes, regardless of mainstream appeal, at the forefront. And that idea extends to comfort too.
As Gerard points out, "The baggy jean has been embraced for what it is, and not merely as a tool to show off one's figure." Baggy jeans, which were always about subverting expectations — of body, of silhouette, of fashion in general — are in many ways the ideal denim choice for this time.
In the end, we're grateful for the return of a style that embraces all shapes and sizes while being at once rebellious and of-the-moment. Here's to baggy jeans — long may they reign.
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