The skinny jeans debate continues—and this time, it’s political.
Multiple outlets reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently announced a list of banned fashion and hairstyles in the region’s state-run newspaper, with skinny jeans and ripped denim among the symbols of a “capitalistic lifestyle” that are now deemed illegal.
In the same announcement, the socialist nation prohibited mullets, spiky and dyed hair, certain piercings and branded T-shirts.
Though fashion and politics may seem worlds apart, denim has a rich history in protest culture, and was considered a symbol of the West during the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall was erected in Germany in 1961, jeans were a scarce commodity in Communist Europe. The so-called “rivet pants” were seen as dangerous emblems of American excess, and those who wore them risked getting sent home from school or even targeted by the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s notorious secret police.
During the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s and early ’70s, hordes of young people called for change while dressed in bellbottoms and denim jackets. Even farther back in time, the fabric was worn by the Black community to show respect for their enslaved ancestors—who were often dressed in overalls and denim workwear—and were viewed by some as an act of rebellion that formed the foundation for denim’s revolutionary reputation.
Skinny jeans have been a globally recognized trend, topping brands’ bestseller lists and remaining one of the most popular styles for women worldwide. But the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a shift in denim fashion that prioritizes comfort-focused styles over body-hugging fits. Gen Z recently took to social media to dethrone skinny jeans and shame older generations for their style choices—and the movement is gaining traction.
Data from retail market intelligence platform Edited indicated that December sellouts of men’s relaxed and straight fits were up 15 percent and 13 percent year-over-year, respectively, and sellouts of women’s wide-leg, straight and paper-bag styles were up 97 percent, 69 percent and 24 percent year-over-year, respectively.