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The Skinny Jean's Fall From Grace


Skinny jeans have long been an economic powerhouse, dominating the $70 billion global jeans market for decades - didn't know that. Recently though, the seams on that trend have started to split. Stacey Vanek Smith and Darian Woods from The Indicator From Planet Money tell us why the skinny's reign might be coming to an end.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Amy Leverton is a denim expert and consultant, and she was at the company, Superfine, that rolled out one of the first collections of skinny jeans in the early 2000s.

AMY LEVERTON: That was almost the first time we'd seen slimmer jeans, especially on dudes as well.

VANEK SMITH: That was, like, a jean moment.

LEVERTON: Yeah, exactly.

DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Amy says skinny jeans became this kind of uber trend. Designers worked within it.

LEVERTON: You have those micro trends within the trends. So obviously, it was, like, high rise, and then it was the jegging, which is, like, super skinny.

VANEK SMITH: Twenty years went by, and skinny jeans and all of their various forms just kept outselling everything. And it started to seem like nothing could kill the skinny jean.

MONETTE KOISIN-DOWIE: Hi. My name is Monette, and I'm a fashion design student.

WOODS: Monette Koisin-Dowie (ph) is 21. And while she was in quarantine, she started using TikTok videos to style her friends.

KOISIN-DOWIE: I, like, put together the outfits, and then that video blew up. And so then I started doing with other people.

VANEK SMITH: So one day, Monette is going through her clothes, and she spots this old pair of skinny jeans.

KOISIN-DOWIE: They're uncomfortable. They're not the most flattering. They don't go with everything. And I was like, why do I have these? So my idea popped into my head, like, why don't I just do a little short TikTok.

WOODS: In Monette's video, she's dancing, and the words three ways to style skinny jeans appear on the screen.

KOISIN-DOWIE: And, like, the first one was, like, putting it in the garbage. The second one is, like, cutting it up. And the third one is burning it (laughter).

WOODS: Brutal.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) It's so harsh. I mean, honestly, this TikTok is delightful to watch, but it's a little devastating, honestly.

WOODS: It's a declaration of intergenerational war.

VANEK SMITH: I don't think Monette meant it that way, but that is in fact how it turned out.

WOODS: Hundreds of thousands of people had watched Monette's TikTok. And that video, along with a handful of others, had sparked a huge intergenerational battle, including a raft of backlash TikToks from angry millennials furiously defending the skinny jeans.

VANEK SMITH: Denim expert Amy Leverton thinks the reason the skinny jean conversation got so emotional is that, you know, like, having, like, a cool 21-year-old kind of mocking your style means basically that you are no longer cool or 21.

LEVERTON: I'm 40 now, so I've been on the other end of this. And it happens every generation, you know? It's just that we were - you know, like, millennials were cool. And what they're struggling with is aging. And it's attached to this jean. This poor jean is, like, taking all the flack.

WOODS: Skinny jeans have gone from dominating jean sales to making up about a third of them now and falling. Amy, though, says nobody really knows what will replace the skinny jean. She says there is a jean silhouette power vacuum.

VANEK SMITH: What Amy and Monette both told me was that the baggy boyfriend jean is kind of a contender. Mom jeans are a contender. Also bell bottoms.

WOODS: Amy, though, says no matter who grabs the denim throne, probably nothing will reign as long as skinny jeans did. That's the kind of trend that comes along once in a generation. Darian Woods...

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WASHED OUT'S "EYES BE CLOSED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Darian Woods is a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money. He blends economics, journalism, and an ear for audio to tell stories that explain the global economy. He's reported on the time the world got together and solved a climate crisis, vaccine intellectual property explained through cake baking, and how Kit Kat bars reveal hidden economic forces.