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Is the Skinny Jean Really Dead?

It’s a question people have been asking since the rise of the skinny jean in the mid-2000s: Is the skinny jean dead? And if it isn’t yet, then when exactly is it going away?

This might be a reasonable question about a silhouette that has dominated the last decade in denim—and perhaps even the last decade in fashion. It’s been coming from consumers who once loved the style but are now tired of it, and from others who found the style uncomfortable or unflattering to begin with. It’s also been coming from brands that are keen to introduce new silhouettes, but haven’t yet seen them catch on outside of a small segment of fashion-forward consumers.

So where exactly does the skinny jean stand in Spring 2016?

Globally, the style has indeed been losing market share. Katie Smith, senior fashion and retail market analyst at trend forecasting firm Edited, said, “According to our data, in the last three months, skinny jeans have lost market share to other styles. Looking at new arrivals in womenswear globally, 32.6 percent were skinny jeans. The same period one year ago, 57.1 percent were skinny.”

Dhruva Tripathi of U.K.’s F-Trend agreed, saying, “In the U.K., [we’ve seen] about a 12 to 18 percent drop in sales of skinny jeans.”

U.S. sources also report a dip in sales, although the decrease seems to be plateauing. Sidney Morgan-Petro of WGSN said, “While we do see a slight decline in sales as other styles gain market share, the skinny remains a very commercially viable, successful style at retail. Sales have been steady for the past few seasons, although the percentage of skinny styles stocked has decreased.”

However, this worldwide decrease doesn’t mean we should be writing the skinny jean’s obituary quite yet. As Morgan-Petro explained, “The skinny is no longer the fashion story; it has become the core basic denim option.”

Essentially, the skinny has become a wardrobe staple that every woman has in her closet. Like the T-shirt or the sneaker, it’s a timeless, essential piece that is not due to disappear anytime soon. There will always be a market for it, even if that market is not quite as rabid as it used to be. “The skinny silhouette will remain a beloved staple by many,” said Rebecca Brown, denim editor at New York City-based Fashion Snoops, “[but] you can only have so many skinny jeans in your wardrobe.”

So now that the skinny has been demoted to everyday basic, what is the next new thing in denim?

Athleisure-Inspired Jeans

As it becomes socially acceptable for women to wear athletic clothes outside of the gym, denim brands are adjusting to appeal to a customer who has grown accustomed to more comfort. “Athleisure has redefined what it means to combine style with comfort,” said Brown. “Joggers remain popular, as do overalls and jumpsuits with a baggier fit.”

Brown also pointed out that skinny jeans do have a place within this trend, if they are designed with comfort stretch.

However, Smith said it’s time for denim retailers to shift away from stretch skinnies to differentiate their offerings from athleisure. “Brands are making efforts to increase the comfort, stretch and shaping in denim, aligning them more closely with yoga pants. But it might be more advisable [for them] to latch onto the trend for wider leg shapes, defining denim’s difference and moving the consumer away from the skinny leg altogether,” she explained.

Looser Silhouettes

Runways and fashion blogs have lately been dominated by flares, culottes, wide-leg jeans and looser, ’90s-inspired denim, but these potentially more challenging styles haven’t yet trickled down to the mass-market consumer.

“It will take a while for the average consumer’s eye to adjust to different silhouettes,” said Morgan-Petro, “but we do feel that it is a change that is soon to come. It may take a few more seasons, though, to really take hold on a commercial level.”

Denim Clothing

In coming seasons, this might be a particularly bright spot for denim brands, which are starting to move beyond the traditional 5-pocket jean to create denim dresses, skirts, shirts and jackets. According to Smith, “There was a 40 percent increase in the number of non-jean denim arrivals online in the last three months compared to a year ago.” Good news for denim-loving consumers: after the long reign of the skinny, the range of denim offered is now wider than ever.

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