When Marc Jacobs sent his final collection for Louis Vuitton down the runway for spring 2014, several looks included baggy and perfectly faded straight-leg jeans. They were sort of boyfriend-y, sort of reminiscent of Levi’s 501s, and 100 percent what we want to wear now. This soft blue, sturdy denim -- along with mom jeans and the patchwork phenomenon -- is making quite the comeback (although if you want to get technical, fashion die-hards have been wearing their vintage-looking Acne Pop Betty jeans for a couple of years).
“I think the bigger, overarching trend that we’re seeing is the influence of the 90s,” says Jill Guenza, VP of global women’s design at Levi’s, who points to the 501s that really defined the look of that era. To wit, the Vuitton ensemble was also very evocative of Stephanie Seymour during her Axl Rose days. “And when you think about the influences of that time, you have Nirvana on the one hand and 'Beverly Hills 90210' on the other -- they were the pinnacle of fashion.” But she’s quick to note that this isn’t a straight-up reproduction of the decade’s look. “It’s a fresher, prettier, more cleaned-up take on the 90s,” she states. “It’s the 501 in a light wash but with very simple silhouettes on top -- like a great white tee -- and then a pretty shoe, whether it’s a heel or even a super clean white Van.”
Florence Kane, editorial director of Jean Stories, has another theory behind the tonal shift: “I think we tend to see light blue and faded jeans each year when when spring/summer rolls around,” she says. “But it might feel more ubiquitous, as we've drifted a bit from the colored and printed ones that were everywhere a couple of years ago.” Touché -- gone are the days when you couldn’t open a magazine without seeing an artfully arranged color wheel of brightly hued denim.
But there’s also the heft, which is new -- styles that either skimp on stretch material, or skip it entirely, for a result that’s very straight-up Americana, like something a Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp would wear onstage back in the day. “I think it shows a real adventurousness from women who are into this look,” says Guenza. “It’s a statement -- it’s a move away from the cultural dictate that jeans need to be really tight on your butt and they should be stretchy and just form to your curves. Don’t get me wrong, I love that look too, but it’s fun to see people playing with the complete opposite. It’s showing confidence in your body by not having to show all your cards.”
When it comes to the cuts, there are a few different camps. The main players are the baggier, tall-rise versions with wide but straight legs (see the aforementioned Vuittons and Acnes) that are inexplicably equal parts tough and tony Connecticut woman. Jane Herman Bishop, creative director of Jean Stories points out that Topshop has this silhouette, too (although, sadly, minus the faded shade) in what they’ve christened the “girlfriend” jean. “I think that’s a great way to describe this shape overall,” she says. “It's not like a boyfriend, in that it has a real waist and it's not usually a rolled hem.”
But then you do have some borrowed-from-the-boys styles in the mix, most notably Levi’s 501s, but there are also a few other options that have that same slouch of guy’s jean, but are a bit leaner in the leg -- see Band of Outsiders. Next come the super straights -- which could most articulately be described as just, like, JEAN jeans -- as seen at H&M. And, lastly, there are the mom-ish ones, with with a slightly cropped or tapered leg, best served up by American Apparel.
Styling-wise, to echo Guenza, it's best to go simple and neat -- with a bit of classic French girl ease thrown in -- as things can get really grungy or very metal fan quite quickly. For everyday, that means a classic button-down or feminine drapey T-shirt, paired with a minimalist slip-on sneaker or smart oxford. A ballet flat would do nicely, too (and don't forget a swipe of red lipstick). Conversely, for evening, we kind of love where Jacobs was going by pairing his jeans with a super fancy, Bob Mackie-esque party top -- the over-the-top embellishment makes for an unexpected contrast.
And while we err on more of the no-frills side of things when it comes to finishes, a lot of pairs do feature a few holes and rips for a lived-in effect -- again, harking back to a “had them forever” vibe, maybe even from the days when you got your first Nirvana CD (yes, CD). Herman Bishop has even noticed this in extremes. “I think the new angle on light denim is the ‘wrecked-ness.’ It's beyond distressed -- with holes in the knees and maybe even in the thighs.”
And that could be another story in itself as this whole thing evolves. In the meantime, click through to see our favorite pairs of faded blue jeans for the season.