Considering we’ve spent a good chunk of the past couple of years at home wearing comfy knits, it’s easy to not know that denim trends are changing. This is a pretty big change, as denim trends seem to stick around well beyond their welcome. What are the best denim trends that will last more than one season (AKA worth actually checking out)?
2021 Denim Trends vs. 2022 Denim Trends
Full disclosure, I wrote this post in 2021. And now, a year later I still feel that the 3 denim trends I featured are still the best denim trends that will last. They lasted through a year where fashion trends were very fast moving, and I believe they will continue to be on trend and help your current wardrobe look modern without appearing like a fashion victim. This post is updated with 2022 denim for sale and examples from current runway shows for 2022.
The biggest difference between 2021 denim trends and 2022 denim trends is 2022 offers more versatility! Not into baggy skater jeans or faded denim and miss your ankle jeans? No problem, this year those looks are still hot, but there is a return to more polished denim, classic styles, and darker rinses.
Changing Up Your Denim Silhouette… Or Not
Remember how straight legs switched to bootcut and we were so relieved to have a silhouette that worked better with a curvy frame and a chunky shoe? When skinny jeans came on the scene so many of us swore, we’d never cave into such a trend, we’d never abandon our beloved bootcuts.
I bet the majority of us in 2007 who said one couldn’t catch us dead in a pair of skinny jeans now has at least one pair in our wardrobe. Skinny jeans now seem so… easy. They slip under cozy sweaters, button-front shirts, and blazers. They look good with knee-high boots, trendy sneakers, ankle booties, and flats. If they’re too long you can cuff them without changing the silhouette, ill-fitting you can hike them up when you rise from the couch, and you can get them in any size, any color, at any pricepoint.
Just as we found straight legs and bootcuts and boyfriends to be essential work with everything jeans, we will be able to see life beyond the skinny jean. And while the skinny jean is still a wearable look, I encourage you to see beyond them and at least try a few different new denim trends this season.
Think about when you were 25, what kind of jeans did 50-year-old women wear? There were those who had no f*cks left to give and wore what they liked. They wore well-worn Levi’s or crisp Wranglers or a chambray pant with an elasticized waist that helped them achieve their life goals and with it, achieve badass personal style. There were also those who seemed to be stuck in a past decade, and often with those dated jeans wore dated shoes and a dated hairstyle.
I am not telling you that you need to embrace any of the current denim trends. I am saying you, and me, us fellow grown-ass women, we are at a point in our style journey where we either need to say:
- I have no f*cks left to give and am going to rock what I own with joy and confidence and that joy and confidence is going to make the jeans that I love wearing look perfect on me.
- I am not yet at that no f*cks left to give stage, but I surely don’t want to look like I don’t give a sh*t so I may try something new to me (or a new version of something I tried a while ago). However, I am at the point where I know I don’t have to embrace any trend that makes me uncomfortable or changes me, and I know I deserve clothing that works with, not against my body and my lifestyle.
What Are the Best 3 Denim Trends That Will Last?
Below I share three of the current denim trends that I predicted last year and have seen with this year's offerings that they will stick around beyond a season or two. You may even want to have one or two of these replace your skinny jeans!
Use this as a guide, not gospel. I have filtered out the oh hell naw trends that should be reserved for GenZ and the True Fashionistas and left ones worth checking out. And this list is not exhaustive. I must say, if you are looking to update your denim wardrobe, 2022 is the year to do it. Denim is hot, not just for jeans but most any kind of garment and pretty much every retailer is offering a great variety to meet the demand of this very wearable trend.
Bootcut Jeans and Kick Flares
Many denim trends have tried over the past decade to dethrone the skinny jean. Mom jeans, boyfriend jeans, girlfriend jeans… they all have been worthy adversaries, but none have truly made a dent in the denim trends of the 21st century. It took a leader from history to shake up this monarchy.
The bootcut is back, baby. It’s here to soothe your calves, style your lug soles, and give you the confidence to consider tucking in tops again. With just a hint of a flare, the bootcut jean, made to fit over boots, also fits those shoes from the back of your closet that have now become a daily wear thanks to comfort and ease.
That doesn’t mean you can go into your attic and pull out your True Religion jeans from 2002 (though they'll likely bring you a pretty penny on a resale site). Us grown-ass women have learned from experience that when trends come back, they’re not exactly the same as they were the first go-round. And even if they are (because the '90s and 2000's are very on trend this year), we grown-ass women have learned from those before us that we are most stylish when we adapt second-go-round trends to our current lifestyle, figure, and aesthetic.
The new bootcut is actually one you may enjoy better than those late '90s Express jeans you held onto “just in case.” The new bootcut is slim, higher in rise, and just a subtle hint of kick out at the bottom. Many retailers are carrying a jean called a “baby bootcut” or “demi boot” which is the most modern and in my opinion, the easiest to wear with the shoes currently in your closet.
The bootcut jean can be full length, but a cropped ankle length version, often called a kick flare, is also popular this year. The kick flare came out a few years ago but has matured to be as subtle as this year's bootcut, and a great choice for those who have more athletic calves and ankles but love the look of a cropped jean with a sneaker.
How to Style Bootcut Jeans in a Current Manner
The modern bootcut is by far the easiest to incorporate into your existing closet. You can wear them with your ankle booties, your lug-sole boots, your sneakers, and even a pair of pumps. The only thing that looks weird with bootcut jeans are flats, especially ballet-style ones. They get lost under the flare; it’s better to use a shoe with some volume and structure.
A bootcut jean, like an ankle jean, can be worn with tops tucked in or left out. I wouldn’t wear a tunic with them because it may create a weird optical illusion, but otherwise, bootcut are pretty easy to wear. I’d encourage you to try the tuck; I know it can feel scary but for inspiration, visit this blog post and read the comments. You may be pleasantly surprised by the result!
Remember your beloved Levi’s 501s? Well, they’re back! This is the denim trend that is most possible to wear if you kept your old pairs of straight jeans in the attic. The look is a slim straight jean that hits the waist or even higher, can be a zip or button fly. These should fit well (you’re not cuffing them this year) and are worth being tailored to the right length for your footwear and your shape.
What makes the current straight leg jean different is it is full length. Hello warm ankles and the ability to wear any hosiery you desire! Also, you’re going to find that extra inch or two of length is going to modernize your wardrobe. A twinset with ankle jeans is twee, a twinset with straight jeans is cool. A Breton tee with ankle jeans and ballet flats may feel tired, but a Breton tee with straight jeans and a pair of Chucks will feel French Girl Chic.
One change from 2021 to 2022 is the straight leg ankle jean is back. However, if you do like an ankle jean, look for a true straight jean, not a slim or tapered style. The jean should not cling to your shins and ankles. And consider switching out your favorite flats for a sneaker or chunky sandal to switch up the proportions while still making the jeans work with your favorite spring and summer tops.
How to Style Straight Jeans in a Current Manner
Last year, straight denim was faded, distressed/vintage looking, and had proper hems, though often distressed as well. This year, there are many more cut-off hems. I personally don't think this is a style to invest in; I think it's lazy on brands' part and if you're going to get new jeans, get them with a hem so they will be more likely to transcend trends and hold up through multiple wears.
As for color, it's either go pale or go rinse. Faded and distressed/vintage looking denim is still a hot trend and a great one to find secondhand. However, there was a lot of dark denim on the runways for spring and summer. While a classic indigo pair of straight jeans will continue to be stylish, consider straight jeans that may not have the classic yellow stitching and shiny metal hardware. Dark denim with tonal detailing is very on trend and looks a bit more polished than traditional jeans.
The straight jean is a great time to do denim on denim, which is a trend that has gotten even more popular since last year. Forego the denim jacket for a denim shirt, worn buttoned and either tucked in or left out. If you leave it out, roll up the sleeves, add some shine at the neck with a cool link necklace or a silk scarf, and a polished-looking shoe (an ankle bootie or pointed-toe flatin a light-colored neutral like tan leather) so it feels purposeful, not sloppy.
Wide Leg and Baggy Jeans
Call them relaxed, dad jeans, mom jeans, barrel jeans, or skater jeans but the comfy oversized denim trend is even hotter in 2022 than it was last year. And unlike 2021 when the jeans were only slouchy, this year you have your pick of a slouchy baggy jean, or a more tailored wide leg… actually you have your choice of anything between the two. Denim is really Choose Your Own Adventure this year and you are likely to find a wide leg or baggy style that fits your personal style aesthetic as well as your comfort level.
Unlike the last time we rocked wide leg and baggy jeans with our belly rings and lower back tattoos on display and our hemlines dragging in puddles, baggy jeans now are deceptively well fit. With a higher rise than the last time we rocked this look and a length that covers the ankles but isn’t long enough to have much of a “break” at the top of the foot, this is a jean that is loose, but can be styled with relaxed and loose tops without looking like you’re swimming in your ensemble.
Denim is such a hot trend in 2022, you will find plenty of styles that can be polished enough for some workplaces and for nights out. A wide-leg denim trouser is a chic alternative to pants and can look very modern for a night out with a silk shirt or camisole or a printed blouse that hits right at the waist.
How to Style Wide Leg and Baggy Jeans in a Current Manner
The baggy jean needs a top tucked in or a shorter/cropped top that hits at the waistband. Also, consider tying a shirt to have it hit at the waistband. Think your merino turtleneck, your cashmere crew, your favorite graphic tee, maybe a fitted tank with a relaxed crop cardigan. Unless your personal style is loose over loose, you likely will feel most confident with some balancing of the volume with a sleeker, or at least tucked in top.
As for shoes, this is the silhouette that begs for your most comfy footwear. Pull out those boots with the arch support, embrace the return of Doc Martens, rock your sneakers, and come warmer weather, wear your baggy jeans with your Birkenstocks and other chunky sandals. If you love to mix tough with soft, a baggy jean looks ultra chic with a heel and a silk blouse or camisole.
How to Make Denim Styles You May Have Worn Before Look Modern and Now
Go High(er) Rise
The biggest change in denim in the past few years is the rise, which is the length from waistband to crotch. While low-rise jeans have made a return with the GenZ set, don’t feel you need to embrace this trend. Instead, I encourage you to try a slightly higher rise for a modern take on denim with an otherwise historic style.
Sure, there are jeans that will touch your bra band, but there are a lot of styles in between boob height and hip bone height. I recommend looking for something that is at or slightly above your belly button. If you haven’t tried a jean that is higher than your belly button, at first it may seem uncomfortable. But try it more than one slip-on in front of your bedroom mirror. You may be pleased to find that a higher rise jean stops muffin tops, won’t fold over if you’re sitting all day, and won’t slide down as easily when you bend over, or when you get up from sitting all day.
If you have no idea where to start with rises, many jean brands offer 9” and 10” rises. This height of rise is higher but not ribcage-skimming. If you are petite, I recommend looking for petite jeans so the rise is not quite as high, but it’s also proportionally cut to work with the natural curves of a torso that is shorter.
Go Faded and Vintage
We have had quite a few years of rinse denim, of darker denim with “whiskering” and strategic fading on the thighs, and colored denim. A quick way to look current is choosing faded denim.
I know, after years of being told that darker colors are more polished, darker colors are more classic, darker colors are more slimming and leg-lengthening, it’s really hard to stomach a pair of faded jeans. It’s possibly harder to stomach than trying a non-skinny jean. But I encourage you to try it because it is going to look the best with current colors and silhouettes.
The thing is, faded jeans can look really dorky if they aren’t a current silhouette. Faded flares will look like a costume, faded skinny jeans and ankle jeans can look really dated.
But the faded trend is really good for thrifters. A pair of old Levi’s in a size or two larger than you usually wear, taken to the tailor to fit right at the waist and be the right length, can be way more stylish than that $350 pair at Shopbop.
One Perfect Pair versus Ten Okay Pairs
This season’s jean is about fit, length, silhouette, and is of a thicker, more classic denim that better holds up. No, it’s not as comfy, but think about your jeans not as a weekend workhorse but a style item. Use them to glam up t-shirts and sneakers, to add interest to your merino sweater and ankle boots, to modernize your blazer and turtleneck, to add a fresh touch to your wardrobe classics.
To have them be this great, it requires time and effort. They likely will need to be tailored to be the right length and fit. They should be line dried to keep their color and prevent any possible distressing to increase and make them unwearable. They will take multiple wears (unless vintage) to break in and have them perfect for your body.
This is why I say get one perfect pair versus buying a bunch of okay good enough pairs. Because let’s be honest, you don’t need any jeans right now. Skinny jeans may not be the hot trend, but you don’t need to get rid of what you have. And your denim trousers, high-rise wide legs, mom jeans, and straight legs you currently own will be just fine.
Do I Have to Get Rid of My Skinny Jeans?
Quick answer? No. I don't plan on donating mine. They're easy, they're comfy, and they've already been paid for. However, if there are any jeans in your closet that you don't love, use this as an excuse to finally let them go. We're living in a new time, and unless you need them for your job or hobby, you don't require several pairs of jeans.
There is no need to embrace any trend. Ever. The most stylish people in the world aren’t trendy. They wear what they want and wear it proudly. If your personal style is dark rinse ankle jeans or purple skinny jeans or patchworked flares you go with your bad self, rock them because knowing your personal style is incredibly chic.
And if you aren’t sure of your style but you are happy with the denim currently in your wardrobe, don’t buy any. Remember how slowly bootcut jeans faded out? They faded so slowly, many readers over the years have asked me where to buy bootcut because only once their pairs bit the dust did they realize they were no longer at retailers. The same is going to happen with skinny jeans.
Will I Look Clueless in Skinny Jeans?
GenZ can tease so much about jean and hair styles, we did the same when we were their age. Remember the joke about mom jeans? Now what do you see in every store? The jeans we mocked moms wearing are now being worn by those moms’ grandkids without an iota of irony. My point is, you do you, grown-ass woman, just like the badass women before you. The way to make it stylish, is to own it.
I hope this post either reinforces the fact that you are a badass person right now, with whatever denim is in your closet, or that it is never too late to have fun with fashion and try new trends. You have earned the right to wear whatever you damn well please. Just be sure that what you wear makes you happy.