The pandemic is creating a reckoning for jeans

Jeans are going to have to adapt to survive.Joey Hadden/Business Insider
  • When it comes to staying at home, athleisure is king.
  • Jeans sales are seeing sharp declines along with the rest of the apparel market, according to The NPD Group's Maria Rugolo.
  • But, it's still unlikely that jeans will go away altogether.

As many continue to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic, jeans are probably not their first choice for a day's outfit.

Many people are opting for clothing that's both functional and comfortable — maybe a blazer or blouse on top and pajama pants or leggings on bottom — so that they can both look presentable on work video calls and be comfortable while at home.

Some are choosing convenience above anything else. Advertisement

"Prior to COVID, even, those who said that they were working from home were buying the same piece of clothing for work, workout and weekend," Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at The NPD Group, told Business Insider.

It's hard to work out in jeans, so where does denim fit into that equation?

Jeans sales are seeing sharp declines along with the rest of the apparel market, according to The NPD Group's Maria Rugolo. Denim will have to adapt to fit the current needs.
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"Jeans have the opportunity to play up the comfort factor, to play up the stretch that they have," Rugolo said. "These are the things that we're going to see help the category."

Several denim-focused retailers — True Religion, Lucky Brand, and G-Star Raw — have already filed for bankruptcy since the pandemic began. Prolonged store closures and a shift towards casual clothing proved damaging for retailers primarily selling jeans. It's a poor turn of events for a category that has seen its ups and downs over the years, but that was seeing some growth before the pandemic. Jeans, especially low-priced denim and jeans for men, were doing pretty well in recent years.Advertisement

Ayako Homma, consultant at Euromonitor International, said this growth was largely due to changing standards around what clothing could be considered office-appropriate.

"As dress codes throughout the country became increasingly casual, US consumers have increased the usage occasions for jeans," Homma said in emailed comments.

"Also, with athleisure solidified in the US market, consumers who had purchased sufficient athletic bottoms over the last few years returned to economy and standard jeans, as fabric and fit innovation helped to make these products attractive for casualwear."Advertisement

But even though the pandemic has complicated this trend, Rugolo said that it may be too early to call this the death of jeans. Apparel as a whole is seeing large sales declines, while jeans that are meant for outdoors work are actually bucking the trend and showing some growth.

"Jeans are never going to go away. They've been a staple for over a hundred years," Rugolo said. "It's definitely something to learn from the pandemic as far as how to adapt to these elements of comfort that consumers are looking for."

Plus, at a certain point, people might get tired of wearing leggings and pajamas all the time. Advertisement

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