What? I’m supposed to give up wearing jeans because I’m over 52?
A few years ago, I came across a preposterous study conducted by CollectPlus, a UK parcel-delivery service, which asked 2,000 Brits this question: When should people stop wearing jeans? Answer: Age 53.
This answer struck me as absurd. Even the marketing director at CollectPlus was baffled by the results. She told the Daily Mail, “Denim is such a universal material and, with so many different styles available, it’s a timeless look that people of all ages can pull off.”
The newspaper didn’t disclose relevant details like the age of the survey’s participants. Who were these people? How old were they? Where did they live? To make any sense out of this study, we needed details like these.
What did the participants reveal? Almost a quarter of them admitted they hadn’t yet found their perfect pair, another 29 percent had given up the quest for that perfect pair, and six percent admitted that they’ve been reduced to tears in the search for it.
Once they found their ideal jeans, however, they’ve held on to them, and 33 percent said they’d wear them practically anywhere, including the theater or a dinner party.
Do these devoted jeans-wearers really expect to give up their beloved jeans when they turn 53? I doubt it.
Although my own go-to pants are skinny black pants with roomy pockets, my wardrobe also includes some skinny jeans. I have happy memories of sporting a pair when I visited Yosemite National Park, where they were clearly the best choice. They protected me from insect bites, spilled food and drink, and potentially hazardous falls onto jagged rocks and other obstacles. When I hiked alongside spectacular Yosemite Falls, its watery mist hit my clothes, but my jeans’ cotton fabric dried quickly in the mountain air. And I had pockets galore in which to stash any small items I needed en route.
In short, they were perfect. Why would I ever want to abandon them?
I wouldn’t. But recent events have compelled me to question whether blue jeans are still the great choice they used to be.
The arrival of the pandemic has changed many jeans-wearers’ thinking, especially whether to purchase new ones. Just look at the statistics. In July 2020, The Washington Post reported that the pandemic was taking “a real toll” on jeans sales. Levi’s had posted a 62 percent drop in second-quarter revenue and announced plans to cut 15 percent of its corporate workforce. Why? Because people were choosing comfort over the trendy jeans they formerly favored.
Things started to shift back as the pandemic began to loosen its grip. But reports of sales haven’t been consistent. Fox Business reported in April 2021 that demand for denim was back. It noted that sales of “the old reliable clothing staple” were on the rise, with consumers buying relaxed-fitting styles rather than the tight-fitting favorites of the past. It added that Levi’s was projecting a potential increase of about 25 percent for the first half of 2021, rebounding from a 13 percent decline.
One month later, in May 2021, a publication called Modern Retail also noted that denim brands like Levi’s were gearing up for the return of sales. According to this source, skinny jeans continued to claim the largest market share at 34 percent of all jeans sales. But The Washington Post reported in July 2021 that denim sales were still falling and people were still turning to “less structured” clothing for both work and recreation.
Two other sources, CNBC and Stylecaster, have issued their own reports. According to CNBC on July 9, Levi’s second-quarter earnings crushed estimates, raising its 2021 forecast. Stylecaster on July 19 determined that skinny jeans were out, but new/old styles like baggy jeans, low-rise jeans, flares, and even patterned jeans, were in.
Conclusion? The jeans-scene is pretty foggy. Trends aren’t completely clear. Just as the pandemic has surged in some areas and declined in others, the jeans-scene is having its own ups and downs. Some jeans-wearers will probably return to denim, with possible changes in the styles they choose, while others may abandon buying any new jeans, even though they hold on to the ones they already own.
Here in San Francisco, we treasure the legacy of blue jeans, thanks to Levi Strauss and the jeans empire he and his partner created in 1871. The Levis Strauss Company is still a big presence in the city, and Levi’s descendants are among the Bay Area’s most prominent philanthropists and civic leaders. The Levi’s company notably maintains a vast collection of historic jeans in its San Francisco archives.
Right now, San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum is sponsoring an exhibit focused on Levi Straus and his legacy. Its website notes that in 1873, “at the end of the California Gold Rush, Levi Strauss & Co., named for a Bavarian Jewish dry goods merchant in San Francisco, obtained a U.S. patent with tailor Jacob Davis on the process of putting metal rivets in men’s denim work pants to increase their durability. It was the birth of the blue jean.”
The CJM calls ‘Levi Strauss: A History of American Style,’ “an original exhibition showcasing the life of Levi Strauss, the invention of the blue jean, and their iconic place in the history of American style.” The exhibit includes over 250 items from Levi’s archives as well as items worn by notables like Albert Einstein. It celebrates how “the democratic blue jean became a cultural staple and a blank canvas for the rising international youth culture.”
“Youth” is the key word here. Young people will almost certainly stay loyal to jeans. Let’s remember that jeans are gender-neutral, racially and ethnically neutral, and still central to the wardrobe of young people, including those in Generation Z.
Regardless of their age, I predict that jeans-devotees will keep wearing jeans. The result? Despite the appeal of loose-fitting pants, jeans will probably maintain their place in the world’s collective wardrobe.
Will I give up my skinny jeans? Nope. And I don’t think many other over-50s will abandon theirs. Together, we’ll defiantly sing (with apologies to Lesley Gore): “They’re my blue jeans, and I’ll wear them if I want to!”
(revised July 2021)