When Gen Z + TikTok declare a fashion trend as “cheugy,” it means it’s over. The rest of us are expected to just move along to the next thing.
But what happens when Gen Z gets caught between two diametrically opposed trends, one threatening to cancel out the other, and both beloved by teen shoppers?
What we’re talking about here is the struggle between fitted leggings versus baggy jeans.
Before they declared “skinny” anything to be out, Gen Zers were passionate about fitted leggings, a longtime staple in their closets. It’s why athleisure brand Lululemon (LULU) and its pricey $100 to $130 leggings have consistently ranked as a coveted brand among that demographic, whose members are those born after 1997.
In Piper Sandler’s recent 42nd semi-annual “Taking Stock With Teens” survey of 10,000 Gen Z consumers, Lululemon once again emerged as a preferred brand of young consumers this year, ranking as their fifth-favorite clothing brand after Nike, American Eagle Outfitters, Pacsun and Adidas.
Millennials, for their part, are grateful to their successive generation’s penchant for leggings because they, too, obsessively wear them to grab a cup of coffee, for school dropoffs, even to work. And whatever the teen consumer powerhouse still likes is what retailers are keeping in stock.
But now, Gen Z is showing that, even in leggings, “skinny” is almost done. On TikTok, they’ve been swooning over “flared” leggings for months, otherwise known as yoga pants.
It’s yet another example of Gen Z’s fondness for resurrecting popular style trends of the past (baggy jeans, scrunchies, tracksuits, chunky plastic jewelry.)
Popular influencer Emma Chamberlain, with her nearly 15 million followers on Instagram and close to 11 million on TikTok, has championed flared leggings on social media since last fall. Zoom into 2021 and flared leggings have popped up at a slew of teen-friendly chains, including Pacsun, Lululemon, Gap (GPS) and Athleta.
“From a teen perspective, Lululemon is still a No. 1 brand with high schoolers but there is a nod to baggy trousers, pants and leggings now in their wardrobe,” said Erinn Murphy, managing director and senior research analyst with Piper Sander.
And for those teens who still wear skinny leggings, they are styling the look as a “triangle” or “inverted triangle, she said. “So its baggy t-shirt with skinny leggings or a shorter top with a looser pant,” said Murphy.
Pacsun president Brieane Olson said the push for loose 70’s flares and 80’s baggy styles in pants and leggings is dominating Gen Z, and the styles are popping up heavily on TikTok and Instagram reels.
Consequently, she said, “at Pacsun we’re seeing a sizable shift into looser silhouettes in bottoms across both our men’s and women’s consumer. Wide leg, loose fit or baggy, flare and super flare, and boot cut are surging denim trends with our Pacsun consumer.”
Olson went as far as to say that skinny pants have begun to lose currency with Gen Z over the past few years, and “going into 2022 will become close to obsolete for our consumer.
Market research firm NPD Group noted in a recent report that consumers overall have adopted more casual and cozy fashion styles “from head to toe.”
In the women’s jeans and active bottoms categories, such as leggings, looser fitting styles are gaining share, said Maria Rugolo, fashion apparel analyst with NPD Group.
“We are starting to see some looser fits in active apparel, as well,” she said. “Flare is the style right now and TikTok is having a moment with it.”