Fashion analysts have called the death of the skinny jean before, but this time around they mean it: Retail sales are flagging, and clothing merchants are increasingly anxious to lure shoppers back into stores.
Enter "comfort" trouser styles—one of the only bright spots in women’s apparel over the last 12 months, according to market research firm NPD Group. While denim sales have been declining, sales of loose-fitting pants have been rising. A quick scan of the checkout lines at the grocery store, the real world runway, is enough to confirm that athletic styles have become de rigueur daywear. In recent seasons, similar silhouettes, like the pajama dressing that Marc Jacobs introduced at Louis Vuitton, have made appearances on some of fashion’s top runways.
The "trend fits the size of the American shopper," Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail, told Bloomberg. "It is much more forgiving for most or many women."
Even Gap, famous for its denim basics, has been highlighting "dressy" sweatpants like its new "track pant." "Fall’s total package trend: comfy, chic, and so easy to wear," Gap’s home page proclaims.
Fashion insiders have been happy to oblige retailers eager to showcase a wider array of denim styles. Garance Doré, the street style photographer turned lifestyle brand, recommends layering denim on denim; her site features a look that involves a denim shirt, vest, and overalls, finished off with a simple updo and Gianvito Rossi stilettos. Fashion magazines and bloggers, in turn, feature celebrities mastering the boyfriend jean, perhaps the leading contender to replace skinnies. "Have you got your boyfriend jeans, yet?" Glamour asks, showing the loose and sometimes ripped cut with everything from a tuxedo jacket to a T-shirt.
For women simply trying to get out the door in the morning, it’s a fine line between ease and aspirational sophistication. Gap, Bloomberg reports, is using its in-store displays as educational tools, to help with styling around the new denim shapes. Ready or not, it’s time to go back to school.