Denim’s Divergence

By Revekah Echols

Spring brings several reinventions of the classic jeans

Pants are getting a little fancy this spring. While the millennium standard skinny jeans will not be immediately ejected from the fashion ecosystem like Styrofoam from a Sierra Club meeting, the continuum of denim styles and silhouettes is changing from a monolithic, uniform trend to a layered, multidimensional one (no, not like a pyramid scheme).

For the spring Adam Selman show, models wore dark rinse, cropped, wide-leg jeans with hems hand-painted in southwestern, Georgia-O’Keeffe-inspired flowers. Alexander Wang used jeans in a more subliminal way, stashing a slim legged white pair under a peau de soie and tulle evening dress. Even Ralph Lauren, who arguably cemented denim into the American fashion aesthetic, treated it delicately in tomboy suiting or fitted spaghetti strap dresses with tiered, frayed hems that resembled ostrich feathers. Whether it is fashion’s nervous tick to constantly reinvent the wheel or the splintered base of influence among consumers, the denim landscape is shifting, and not just in one direction.

The denim vocabulary, which already included handy, visually impacting terms like stove pipe, cigarette and boyfriend, now includes language that feels a little more technical, specific and maybe even a little political: kick flare, anti-fit, tulip hem and unisex. All to say, there is a lot out there.

The easiest transition is to trade in a strictly skinny silhouette with a slim one, the difference being how much the jean breaks at the knee. While the hip, seat and thigh are still fitted, the leg opening from knee down is more generous, consequently creating a softer, more relaxed visual shape. The more interesting ones out there include Japanese or Italian piece goods in an ankle length with a frayed hem or some kind of clever embellishment to the seams.

Another great silhouette this spring is the flounced hem. One part cropped skinny, one part Spanish matador, the jean is straight forward until right below the knee, where the fabric starts to gather, creating a ruffle around the ankle. Different iterations include high-low hems, patchwork and color blocking. While more of an editorial look, the shape can become more egalitarian when worn with a straightforward shape on top, whether it is a crewneck, featherweight sweater or a tailored button-down.

Of course, for those who are ready to ditch the skinny with the pomp and grandeur of a Jean Paul Gaultier sailor or ’90s Japanese anime hero, there is the high-rise wide leg. Interestingly, this is both the most specific silhouette of the season in terms of appeal and the style that offers the greatest breadth of variety. Stella McCartney took the trend for a spin in a hazy blue washed palazzo style with a high, cinched paper-bag waist. Los Angeles based Citizens of Humanity will offer a cropped, stiffer, 1970s feel with a rounded, split tulip front. At Frame, designers executed the wide-leg jean from a more tailored perspective, incorporating double-front pleats, on-seam pockets and a more uniform dark rinse.

It doesn’t have to necessarily “mean” anything that the world’s wardrobe staple is not moving in a uniform direction anymore. It could converge once again or continue to move in multiple, diametric directions. In the meantime, adding a little fray or flounce this spring may just be, in short, the perfect antidote to a long, skinny winter.

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