The slowdown of skinny jeans might actually be good for the denim industry

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

(c) 2015, The Washington Post.

It's hard to pinpoint the moment that you shoved your jeans to the back of your closet in favor of your stretchy yoga pants.

That's the thing about fashion trends today: Their lifecycles are short. And with everything moving faster, retailers are increasingly looking for ways to keep up with what you want to wear, right this minute.

Google thinks it has found a way to help. On Monday, the search giant released its first fashion trends report, which analyzed billions of searches to figure out what shoppers are interested in this season and how that has changed relative to previous years.

Google's full report is a fascinating read for any fashion junkie. Midi skirts? They're just starting to surge in popularity. String bikinis? Not so much. Apparently women are looking for swimsuits with more coverage this year.

But perhaps one of its most noteworthy finds is on the trajectory of skinny jeans. Google says this trend is "expected to decrease in demand every year." After years of getting bruised by the emerging "athleisure" trend, projected weakness for the skinny silhouette may at first glance seem detrimental to the denim industry. If the most popular women's jeans style of the past decade is losing its appeal, how is denim going to stay relevant?

Dig deeper into Google's report, though, and you'll find some possible answers. Searches for "boyfriend jeans" — a baggier style that's meant to look like you borrowed it from your guy's closet — surged 89 percent year over year and were conducted in higher volume than searches for skinny jeans. (Google does not share the precise number of searches conducted for any of its keywords, but it does provide a "volume index" that gives a sense of how the volume of searches within an apparel category compares with one another.)

Searches for biker jeans were up 552 percent, while searches for ripped jeans were up 107 percent.

Here's one way to interpret those findings: Skinny jeans have been the go-to denim silhouette for about a decade, and that is challenging for denim sellers. If a woman has a great pair of skinnies, she has little motivation to open her wallet for new jeans until the styles shift dramatically. And so retailers have been gently pushing us to try something new: Remember the crop of high-waisted jeans and wide-leg styles that hit stores a couple of seasons ago? Seen some culottes at the mall this year? Those pieces are all nudges to get you to change up your jeans.

With these findings, it appears that retailers might finally be getting their wish: Women indeed seem to be getting tired of skinny jeans, and they're looking for something new.

Athleisure wear will continue to present a challenge to denim brands. Google found that "jogger pants" have experienced "steady growth" lately, and says they are a trend that is "about to take off." It found strong interest in these stylish sweatpants across various demographics — men, women, boys and girls — suggesting wide appeal.

But if denim brands give women something new and show them appealing ways to style it, they just might start seeing fresh momentum.

One of Google's findings doesn't seem to reflect a change in fashion trends so much as it serves as an eye-popping testament to the power of viral Web content. Remember the debate over the white-and-gold (or was it blue-and-black?) dress that clogged your Facebook and Twitter feeds for a couple of days in February? Google found that searches for "white and gold dress" skyrocketed 51,493 percent this season and searches for "blue and black dress" shot up an astonishing 215,408 percent.

Also, "white and gold dress" and "blue and black dress" both out-indexed wedding dresses, an item that women generally research heavily before buying.