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Another Factor Behind Denim’s Comeback? Pandemic Weight Gain

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An industry-wide shift in fashion trends may not be the only reason women are updating their jeans this year. With businesses and schools reopening this summer due to the widespread distribution of vaccines, fitting back into pre-pandemic staples such as jeans is of growing concern for consumers.

A new blog post by Maria Rugolo, The NPD Group’s director, industry analyst, states that nearly 40 percent of women are now wearing a different size compared to one year ago. While 15 percent of the women said they are a size smaller, 25 percent report now wearing a larger size.

Much has been said about pandemic weight gain, thanks to a perfect storm of triggers including stress, increased snacking, less activity and changes in sleep and alcohol consumption. A recent American Psychological Association report called “Stress in America” found that a majority of adults (61 percent) reports experiencing “undesired weight changes since the start of the pandemic,” with 42 percent saying they gained more weight than they intended. This group, according to the report, gained on average 29 pounds.

With two out of five adult females no longer fitting into last year’s size, this snap back to dressing in tailored garments is on track to bode well for denim retailers and brands.

Of the 80 percent of female consumers who said they plan to buy jeans for themselves in the next 6-12 months, Rugolo reported that the top styles were straight and skinny. High-rise and bootcut tied for third.

Though Gen Z’s valiant effort to take down millennials’ skinny jeans this year has not gone unnoticed, the form-fitting style continues to make up the largest share of women’s jeans and continues to appeal to a young audience, according to the NPD data.

Nearly half of the women surveyed between the ages 18-34—which Rugolo noted accounts for a “good portion” of millennials—stated they plan to buy skinny jeans, followed by high-rise, straight and distressed jeans. Skinny jeans have also been an incubator for innovations in stretch, tummy panels and slimming properties—qualities that may appeal to consumers as they adjust to their new sizes.

This fluctuation in weight also adds weight to new products that cater to multiple sizes. Recent denim collections by brands like Good American, Frame and Zara offer one-size-fits-many fit solutions. The one caveat? The adaptable collections only offer super-stretch skinny jeans.

Though other styles still account for a smaller share of the market overall, NPD data points to a growing demand for variety. Rugolo reported that wider styles such as slim, relaxed and baggy jeans are gaining share in the women’s denim market, largely due to the popularity of mom jeans, boyfriend jeans and a resurgence of ’80s and ’90s styling.

“At the end of the day, skinny jeans are not leaving the marketplace but will instead adapt to fit our lifestyles better,” Rugolo stated.

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