When it comes to men’s jeans, very little has changed since the first pair was patented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. Certainly not the basics: two legs, made of denim, riveted stress points. No need to reinvent the wheel after 140 years of loyal service, right?
In fashion, however, form often trumps function. (How else to explain Justin Bieber’s diaper pants?) To keep consumers interested, aspirational, and willing to shell out cash, perennial wardrobe stalwarts like denim undergo subtle shifts from season to season. This spring is no exception.
Colour is king The most obvious men’s denim trend to hit stores this season is an explosion of colour. Jeans have taken on the larger menswear shift to incorporating brights and pastels, making this season one of the most multihued in recent denim memory, and possibly ever.
“We’re offering our premium denim in more Pantone colours this year than ever before,” says Heather Hopkins, director of PR for Gap Inc. Canada, by phone from Toronto, citing the popularity of colour on the runways of fashion weeks across the globe as a key influence.
“Our denim is following a trend towards bright pops of colour in fashion, with or without denim,” Hopkins says. “We’ve got everything from mustards to blues to variants of reds. It’s a riot.” With its rainbow-hued in-store displays and accompanying ad campaigns, Gap is perhaps the most prominent retailer to ride the coloured denim wave, and it will continue to do so into the fall, when the colours will, predictably, get darker. Think mustard browns, burgundy, and the return of that late ’80s rock ’n’ roll staple, black.
Admittedly, Gap appeals to a younger customer, one who is often more conscious of trends and more willing to experiment with his look. However, dismissing coloured denim’s appeal as merely a caprice of youth would be a mistake, at least according to Paul Smith, fashion communications manager for Harry Rosen. “We’re not catering to the 21-year-old hipster,” Smith says by phone from the high-end menswear chain’s Toronto headquarters. “And our main message this season is all about colour. Across the spectrum, we have just about every colour you can imagine.”
The move to coloured denim has also had an effect on the atmosphere on Harry Rosen’s sales floor. “It’s unbelievable what it looks like,” Smith says. Blues, yellow oranges, and greens have taken over the chain’s usually staid denim departments, where walls of formerly all-blue now boast blushes of brights from AG Jeans, Citizens of Humanity, and 7 for All Mankind. Smith says that, as at Gap, coloured denim will carry through to fall at Harry Rosen, with darker, richer tones replacing the brights and pastels of spring.
Survival of the fittest “The change you’re going to start to see this spring is a less fitted look,” says Eric Dickstein, co-owner of Gastown specialty denim shop Dutil. After years of tighter and tighter denim, out goes the super-skinny jean—the one that’s so tight you can clearly see the outline of a guy’s phone in his front pocket (and sometimes guess his religious affiliation). Dickstein says that in its place, we can look forward to the so-called “slim-straight” fit, which has a more relaxed, yet still structured silhouette.
“Many brands—like Tellason, Naked & Famous, and Levi’s—have begun to open up their leg openings for a less fitted look and more space in the thigh and at the cuff,” he explains. “People are going for a bit more comfort.”
The trend of a less fitted cut appears across the retail spectrum. Over at Gap, the skinny jean still reigns supreme, but the skinny-straight silhouette of the label’s Slim Fit is gaining popularity, and it’s also been given a coloured make-over. At Harry Rosen, whose sportswear department never really got onboard with the super-skinny trend, the preferred look is lean and clean, aligning perfectly with the slim-straight revolution.
That said, Dutil’s Dickstein cautions customers not to expect skinny jeans to suddenly disappear from the streets on the first day of spring. “Everyone’s been on the skinny train for a while now, and change takes time,” he says. Although, as guys who’ve made it through puberty or are blessed/cursed with a more muscular leg can attest, the end of the skinny jean’s sartorial tyranny can’t come soon enough.