When you come from Generation X, there’s only one way to react to the war going between Gen Z and Millennials over skinny jeans.
You shrug, because you don’t really care what they’re wearing anyway. And yet, this doesn’t mean you completely ignore the fashion fracas, either.
As reported by The Guardian recently, young TikTok users have tagged more than 274,000 videos with “no skinny jeans.” That’s just in the last month.
The videos come with some advice from Gen Z to the Millennials who have already filled their closets with skinny jeans: they should cut them into shorts, throw them away or burn them in order to underscore the idea that they have become a bad style decision.
It’s kind of amusing to see this kind of generation gap emerge, and to see a particular cut of everyday denim become its most potent symbol. There’s also something intriguing about how it evolves a more traditional critique of fashion across generations.
In the 1960s and 70s, for instance, to wear bell bottoms was a way of criticizing the conservative, “uptight” aesthetic of Baby Boomers who choose suits and skirts that hung below the knee as a uniform of social conformity. In that case, though, just wearing the bell bottoms served as the critique.
Today, Gen Z don’t simply want to express their individuality but to disparage their predecessors into getting rid of their existing wardrobe. Fashion has often taken the form of protest, but never before through such a collective act of public shaming.
What’s at issue, in this case, is not so much conformity or conservatism but the same complaint that always seems to get lobbed at Millennials: elitism. Or maybe just a sense of access.
“There has been an increased focus on body inclusivity in fashion in recent years. This chimes with Generation Z’s social activism and calls for greater diversity,” The Guardian article noted. “On TikTok, Gen Z users have advocated for baggy jeans instead of slim-fit – eschewing the prescribed idea that thinness is attainable . . . The skinny v baggy online debate not only exposes a generational divide but other socioeconomic truths, too.”
And you just thought you were just buying jeans that would never have made sense as a pair of overalls.
In some ways this would seem like a logical time to sound the death knell for skinny jeans. With the pandemic dragging on and working from home become a more regular everyday reality, everything in fashion now feels like it needs to be weighed against the comfort of sweats.
This could explain why, according to market research firm Edited, sellouts of men’s relaxed and straight fits were up 15 percent and 13 percent year-over-year. (It’s even higher for women’s jeans).
When you can’t go out to nightclubs, parties or even to a movie theatre, wearing skinny jeans now feels like a wasted effort.
How Skinny Jeans Changed Men’s Fashion
It’s worth pointing out that the Gen Z attack on skinny jeans seems more focused on women — just check out the story on Huffington Post where Millennial-aged women are clapping back with videos of their own. And yet in some ways I feel like skinny jeans have had a bigger impact on men’s fashion overall.
Ever since Hedi Slimane started designing them while at Dior Homme and neo-punks like the Strokes strutted in them on stage, skinny jeans offered an alternative to what was traditionally considered attractive (or even acceptable) in terms of heterosexual masculine style.
Instead of jeans that were largely associated with slumming it or acting like a latter day Paul Bunyon, you could wear denim that actually showed off the work you were putting in on “leg day” at the gym.
Rather than look like a guy whose dress pants were all at the dry cleaners, you finally had jeans that might look good with a sport jacket.
There has always been a risk that the jeans could be too skinny — where sitting down might lead to an embarrassing rip, or people might wonder if you secretly wanted to pull on a pair of tights. Usually, though, I found I was buying jeans that felt more streamlined, that made me feel more athletic than I really was (er, am).
Once there are more occasions or opportunities to venture outside again, I suspect some form of the skinny jean will survive, if only because it gives men (and women) a feeling of putting on something special.
When you look at brands like Uniqlo, Nordstrom or even the Gap, what you see is more of a range between “skinny,” “slim” and “regular,” with “stretch” thrown in for guys who aren’t sure they can squeeze into a particular fit.
Styles like these tend to swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other before settling somewhere in the middle (just look at the wide ties of the eights compared with the skinny ties of the early Aughts). Gen Z’s style choices will come under the scrutiny of Gen Z before they know it, and will likely be found just as wanting.
The best way forward is really the same as it’s always been: to ignore both peer pressure and the undue pressure from generations young or old. Aim for a cut that complements your outfit. Find a fit that feels good to you, rather than what’s dictated on TikTok. Choose a quality of denim that will last, and perhaps create such a good impression that observers will ask about it. At which point you can give them the skinny on it.