A generation war has been playing out on TikTok for some time, though anyone older than 24 might be oblivious to the millions of “millennial v Gen Z” videos that have appeared on the social media site in the past year. But now the kids have turned their sights on something that millennials apparently hold close to their hearts: skinny jeans.
In scenes reminiscent of the “OK boomer” meme that divided the generations in 2019, the videos have shone a light on how Generation Z – broadly defined as anyone born between the mid-90s and 2010 – identify themselves in contrast with the generation that came before them.
Since January there have been 274,000 videos tagged “no skinny jeans” on TikTok and 8.3m millennial v Gen Z videos. Earlier in the month the male supermodel Luka Sabbat told Esquire: “Skinny jeans don’t look as flattering nowadays.”
A video from TikTok user @momohkd instructs her 410,000 viewers to throw their skinny jeans away, set them alight or cut them into something new. Like other users she says millennials should stop wearing them to look younger.
Skinny jeans became mainstream in 2005 after featuring in the Dior Homme autumn/winter collection, as overseen by Hedi Slimane. The size of the jeans – 27 inches – were considered tiny, especially in contrast to the price tag: about £200. “Slimane’s skinny jeans were significant for their cut, but also for the bodies he showed them on – incredibly skinny bodies, both of male and female models,” says Emma McClendon, the author of Denim: Fashion’s Frontier. “This changed the marketing and styling of jeans advertisements away from the more sensual look that had dominated the market for bootcut, low-rise jeans to a more androgynous and impossibly thin figure.”
The skinny jean became part of the 2000s boho look of It-girls such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie (as styled by Rachel Zoe), as well as a part of the alternative rock boom of the era, as seen on bands including the Strokes and Razorlight. But they never really went away: Jill Biden recently wore a pair on Instagram and they also became a distinguishing feature on the “four lads in jeans” meme.
But there has been an increased focus on body inclusivity in fashion in recent years. In September Versace cast three plus-size models for the first time, and the plus-size model Paloma Elsesser was on the cover of US Vogue in January. This chimes with Generation Z’s social activism and calls for greater diversity. On TikTok, Gen Z users have advocated for baggy jeans instead of slim-fit – eschewing the prescribed idea that thinness is attainable. According to market research company Edited, sales of men’s relaxed-fit jeans have increased by 15% and women’s wide-legged jeans are up 97%. The skinny v baggy online debate not only exposes a generational divide but other socioeconomic truths, too. “This is about issues of ‘taste’ but they intersect with issues of class, age, location, gender,” says McClendon.
The skinny jean, however, may prove hard to get rid of. Last month, the Levi’s chief executive, Chip Bergh, told investors he did not “think skinny jeans are ever going away on the women’s side of the business”, despite a clear trend towards “casual, looser-fitting clothes in general”, according to Business Insider. McClendon added that they “always have a way of bouncing back. They are an extremely versatile and adaptable garment that carry such a multitude of cultural meanings that they will never be irrelevant.”