It’s time to wear denim every which way… except as jeans.
There was once a time when denim functioned primarily as pants. But technological innovation stops for no one. And lately, the age-old textile has outgrown its humble origins to extreme extents. So we ask: What is denim in 2023? It may sound like a straightforward question. But lately, it seems no one quite knows for sure.
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At some point during recent internet history, in the midst of skinny vs. bootcut debates and low-rise-induced panic, denim has transcended the very role it was once known to play. What was traditionally a weekend uniform or casual Friday staple has been broken down, reinvented and reintroduced so many times that it’s come to be nearly unrecognizable.
In recent seasons, designers have shown reconstructed jeans through crafty silhouettes and unusual washes. Blumarine’s Spring 2023 collection was full of reimagined denim, from a cross-shaped top and studded belt to a bralette with cargo-like pockets. Diesel has been reliably demonstrating that denim can do anything, via tube tops, purses, and pointed-toe heels. This ethos has even reached luxury labels, with light-wash quilted denim bags at Chanel and backward maxi skirts at Victoria Beckham.
Stars, too, are propelling the absurdity of denim du jour. Since last year, Julia Fox has been the bona fide mascot for unexpected jean outfits, from a dress made of multiple waistbands to a bandeau comprised of just one. Joots—jeans and boots combined—inexplicably took off as a celeb-favourite microtrend in 2022, thanks to Kim Kardashian. At Copenhagen Fashion Week in February, influencer Nina Sandbech took denim inventiveness to a new level, turning her high-waisted jeans into a loosely-fitted turtle neck jacket. And just this week, singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock was pictured in what can only be described as oversized paint-stained jeans fashioned as an asymmetrical tube dress.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that, as new forms of denim emerge, we’re seeing unlikely alternatives to traditional bottoms. Take the recent tights-as-pants trend, which was a not-so-subtle rejection of jeans. But as fashion ebbs and flows — our expectations of pants alongside it — denim remains infallible. Why limit the fabric to being just jeans, when you can wear it as a tote, a top, a choker and more? Jacquemus used the fabric for going-out bags. Alaïa sells medium-wash mules. Some pieces on the market lean into the look of repurposed pants, with Berlin-based brand Bless offering denim ponchos, mittens and wedges — all with rivets and belt loops.
What could all this mean? For starters, it speaks to fashion’s growing “anything goes” attitudes. Any way you slice it, denim is a marker of modernity. And with the ever-accelerating volatile trend cycle, it’s impossible to pin down what that marker is. Case in point: though skinny jeans were shunned just a few years ago, they’re now resurfacing on runways yet again — alongside the aforementioned avant-garde denim designs. It’s increasingly hard to discern what’s cool, uncool, ironic or genuine — even with one of the most universally-worn garments. Today, denim is everywhere you turn, in every rise, cut and form you can think of. It’s hard to say what heights denim may reach next. But as you navigate the unconventional jean landscape of the future, ask not what denim can do for you, but what you can do for denim.
Feeling inspired to expand your repertoire? Find some jean-inspired denim pieces — from a waist-band top to a rosette choker — below.
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