If there’s a piece of fashion that belongs to the people, it’s denim. But despite its universal appeal and total ubiquity, denim has managed to sidestep a pedestrian reputation in even the most pontifical of design scenes. Perhaps more than any other style staple, it has been a reflection of our greater cultural movements and mores, the subject of constant reinvention.

In the early 2000s, a period steeped in ostentation to the point of perversion, jeans were dialed up to the nth degree: ultra-low-rise, pocketless, sand-blasted in the back and embellished with any number of revealing features. (We’ll leave lace-up-crotch detailing at the turn of the millennium, thank you very much.) Their scaled-back successor, the skinny jean, was ushered in at the same moment the alt-to-mainstream American Apparel aesthetic took flight; its grip on popular fashion was so pervasive that nearly 15 years later, the skin-tight style remains a bestselling fit. Most recently, stiff straight-legged denim and all of its familial iterations—the mom jean, the dad jean, even the girlfriend jean—have come about in a societal-values-meets-style moment that aligns with a gender-fluid future.

Now, as evidenced by the multitude of luxury-leaning designers jumping on board this season, it seems we’re back on baggy denim. At Celine and Chloé, slouchy—nay, voluminous—jeans were kitted out with whispers of Y2K-era trimmings. (Take heed of whiskering and front seams.) Victoria Beckham, known for polished sportswear and impeccable tailoring, departed from her usual clean lines and introduced a wide pooling pair in her concise collection. The unusual choice came after the famously prim designer admitted that—gasp!—jeans had become a part of her regular rotation in quarantine.

Of course, some designers have been doing baggy and androgynous all along. Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, whose gritty design through line was augmented by his time at Maison Margiela more than a decade ago, showed practically shapeless denim contours in the house’s spring/summer 2021 collection, with hems chewed up as if they’d been stepped on countless times. An oversized silhouette is a classic in his repertoire, but when it was applied to denim, the results leaned even more devil-may-care, like he was designing for a borderline apocalyptic future.

So just how did we leap from straight to slackened? Some will say it’s the product of yet another moody ’90s revival (fashion is cyclical, as we know), but we’re inclined to point to more current grounds. This unfettered silhouette comes on the heels of our collective sweatsuit obsession, which speaks to a craving for not only comfort but also space and freedom. A handful of designers have gone all in on soft goods made for the WFH lifestyle, but for those still aiming to remain aspirational, denim is the kind of elevated medium that’s ripe for reinterpretation.

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