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Bold Colors and Retro Denim Will Continue Through 2023

The culmination of stress, fear and renewed optimism over the past few years have given birth to a new class of fashion followers, each with its own subsets of values reflected in bold sartorial expression.

Denim Dudes founder Amy Leverton outlined fashion’s new personalities during a Spring/Summer 2023 denim trends preview during Kingpins24 last week—and like many trend forecasters have noted, approaching styles are taking on a more colorful, unapologetic persona in light of a global pandemic-ridden period.

Of these personas, the “sartorial flex” is the most exclusive, with consumers opting to buy into a moment rather than a brand. According to Leverton, “a jean is no longer just a jean,” as consumers—specifically those in this style subset—are focused more on the item’s interpreted value and social perception. The concept is perhaps best reflected in the widely hyped Yeezy x Gap collaboration, which has so far consisted of elevated basics dropped sporadically to generate mass hysteria. According to Gap Inc., 75 percent of customers who preordered the Yeezy Gap collaboration’s first item—a bright blue unisex “round jacket”—were new to Gap.

Despite the collection’s electric blue debut, this fashion subset is typically defined by a more muted color palette. Leverton pointed to earth tones such as forest green and chocolate brown as dominating this category, further underscoring consumers’ affinity for “humble flexes.” This subset is most likely to spend according to their values, supporting Black-owned businesses and brands with a track record of sustainability.

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On the other hand, consumers are also responding to the year-long state of uncertainty with “dopamine dressing” marked by bold colors and patterns that’s likely to extend through 2023. Leverton calls this style “joie de vivre,” as it’s defined by a sense of joy and living in the moment.

With a rainbow color palette focused on soft brights and a special emphasis on mint and grassy greens, the style persona mixes gleeful indulgence with a large dose of irony. “It’s less about ‘how does this look?’ and more about ‘how does this make me feel?’” Leverton said during the presentation.

Playful combinations like pattern mixing and voluminous silhouettes provide upbeat visuals that channel the ’80s. Acid wash, along with brightly colored pants, are key denim trends in this space that forecasters have already detected. Purple denim is one of the top colored jeans selections, according to product intelligence company Trendalytics, and will likely continue to gain traction.

But the ’80s resurgence is just one part of a retro revival for 2023. The “contempo-retro” persona is shifting its sights to a “naughties,” or late ’90s and early ’00s, obsession. Defined as the “recent past,” the term retro now refers to this time period, which millennials have already lived through. Gen Z has reclaimed the naugthies as its own, offering its own elevated approach with body-con cutouts, sexy mesh fabrics and other creative ways to show more skin.

Case in point: The cohort has singlehandedly brought back low-rise jeans, but rather than subscribe to the authentic ’00s version marked by skin-tight styles, Gen Z is opting for looser fits and a more gender-neutral angle. Though there are some ’90s color-blocking moments, this persona generally subscribes to a dark and autumnal color palette of slate, brown, navy and rusted shades.

Finally, the “iconiclast” persona is characterized by youthful, playful and disruptive attitudes. If the contempo-retro theme honored the recent past, the iconiclast theme flips it on its head entirely. This cohort rebels against the government and big business, and the sentiment is reflected in its punk-forward aesthetic.

Defined by a “digital” palette of pale and washed-out indigos punctuated by bright red and yellow, this style plays with gradients and tie-dye effects. It incorporates a mix of trends from decades past, spanning the ’60s to ’00s and channeling a potluck nostalgia.

Through its clothing, the persona aims to drive change. The sentiment is best reflected by U.S. representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s controversial Met Gala gown emblazoned with the phrase “Tax the rich.” The gown was a major story the next day, with many commending the young political figure for using her platform to make a strong statement. For this cohort and many others to come, “fashion has become today’s chosen medium for political expression,” Leverton said.