Saturday, July 13, 2024

It’s Not Just a Denim Maxi Skirt—It’s a Movement

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Following a gleeful era of dopamine dressing, the fashion zeitgeist is now yearning for a classic staple that can navigate the uncharted terrain of our post-pandemic future. Something dependable, seasonless, and, and yes, unequivocally comfortable. Enter: the denim maxi skirt—a timeless icon, rooted in the art of creative repurposing and capable of evolving with cultural tides. “When we were coming out of lockdown, I saw a strong interest in maximalism, and I wonder if the denim maxi could be a shift back towards a more minimalist, stripped-down aesthetic,” contemplates author and sustainable fashion expert Elizabeth L. Cline.

For those seeking sartorial longevity and a clutter-free wardrobe, it’s an understated essential. “My high school years are coming back,” says fashion director and stylist Shibon Kennedy. She reminisces about her coveted dark denim Earl Jeans A-line maxi, complete with an over-the-knee slit. “To me, it conjures up the ’90s, it conjures up the ’70s—it’s one of those things that everybody can wear. It can either be utilitarian or super sexy. There’s so much room for it, and it’s a transitional piece you can wear every season.”

miami beach, florida december 01 zerina akers attends w magazine and burberry’s art basel celebration on december 01, 2022 in miami beach, florida photo by rob kimgetty images for w magazine

Longer hemlines are nothing new, but the denim maxi skirt also reflects our hunger for a wardrobe hero that transcends fleeting microtrends beloved by Gen Z and TikTokers alike. “It brings with it this spirit of resourcefulness, and it’s inspiring people to create their own clothes again,” says stylist and costume designer Zerina Akers, who also feels that the garment’s popularity can be attributed to its alignment with the mermaidcore trend. “I’ve been mixing my black denim cargo maxi with a patent shirt or something that has a different texture,” she adds.

In the 1970s, the jean skirt emerged as a way to upcycle denim, mirroring the free-spirited energy of the times. (Picture distressed textures and imperfect patchwork crafted from old fabric scraps.) The front-snap style was an undeniable favorite, embodying the carefree comfort of the decade. Fast-forward to the 1990s, and the denim maxi found its place firmly within the grunge movement. Often paired with combat boots, chunky accessories, and a leather jacket, it epitomized the gritty DIY aesthetic that became synonymous with that type of fashion, popularized by frontwomen like Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani.

radio z100's zootopia concert in hemptead photo by steve azzaracorbis via getty images

Christina Aguilera

Steve Azzara

tori spelling photo by sgranitzwireimage

Tori Spelling

Steve Granitz

During the 2000s, several designers, including Stella McCartney, Dries Van Noten, and Marc Jacobs, reinvented the retro piece into a contemporary fashion statement. Y2K style icons, like Christina Aguilera, Kelly Rowland, and even Jennifer Aniston’s Friends character Rachel Green wore the functional skirt with an array of trendy touches. From shimmering crystal embellishments to playful fringe accents and bold cuts, the denim maxi cemented its status as an eternal canvas for self-expression.

Recent collections have been all about length. Burberry’s pre-fall 2022 runway included an ultra high-waisted, mid-toned maxi that just barely grazed the floor, and Altuzzura’s spring/2023 assortment offered two variations: an ankle-length, structured silhouette for a polished aesthetic, and a low-slung, baggy version for an effortlessly cool look. Laur’s spring/summer 2023 line reimagined traditional silhouettes, introducing a genderless adaptation fit for the office, while MM6 Maison Margiela’s spring/summer 2023 range presented a dystopian-esque distressed dark denim maxi adorned with a skinny belt—a nostalgic and somewhat disheveled nod to the emo look. Brands like Acne Studios, Reformation, and Ganni are also contributing their own edgy interpretations to the long jean skirt trend. Celebrities like Anitta, Julia Fox, Bella Hadid, and Jennifer Lopez have all been spotted wearing it, too.

new york, usa september 10 a model walks the runway during the altuzzara ready to wear springsummer 2023 show as part of the new york fashion week on september 10, 2022 in ny photo by victor virgilegamma rapho via getty images

Victor Virgile

According to Cline, there’s a soaring demand for sustainability among consumers, leading to an increase in the use of eco-friendly materials like recycled content and organic cotton. “We [also] see more brands having the secondhand and resale option, so certainly there are things changing, but at the same time, I don’t think any reader would be surprised to hear that fast fashion is doing better than ever.”

Los Angeles-based stylist Miso Dam loves her vintage dark denim mid-waist maxi by Diesel, a gem she found on Depop and got tailored to fit her silhouette. “Normcore is really trendy right now, and maxi skirts make you look a little bit more put together even if you’re not trying too hard. I think that’s an aesthetic that a lot of girls are gravitating towards,” she says.

For a casual daytime look, Dam says she’d style her maxi with a rib tank or plain tee, then complete the ensemble with a pair of cowboy boots and a vintage handbag. For added flair, she suggests experimenting with layered belts or incorporating additional layers like a sweatshirt, crew neck, or long trench coat. Alternatively, she loves to occasionally channel her inner Britney Spears and fully embrace the Canadian tuxedo with a matching denim jacket.

paris, france october 05 a model walks the runway at the stella mccartney spring summer 2016 fashion show during paris fashion week on october 5, 2015 in paris, france photo by catwalkinggetty images

A look from Stella McCartney’s spring 2016 collection.


When shopping for a sustainable option, Cline suggests prioritizing materials like 100 percent cotton or a blend of 99 percent cotton and 1 percent spandex for durable, easy-to-care-for, and recyclable pieces. “You can look at the product description online and shop brands that claim to be sourcing more sustainable cotton that’s made with responsibly managed water and non-toxic dyes,” Cline says. “And hopefully you can find something—I know it can be difficult—where the brand is saying something about how the people in the supply chain are treated.”

When choosing a size, Kennedy recommends considering your desired fit. “I will buy two sizes up if I want [the denim maxi skirt] to hit low,” Kennedy says. Her insider tip? Rather than buying a low-rise style, she prefers a little room, which allows for adaptability. This way, she can fold it if she wants something high-waisted. To personalize the fit, she encourages experimenting with accessories—think: oversized hoops, a fun handbag, a bold belt, or pops of silver or gold accents. And in terms of beauty, Kennedy swears by a red lip, whether it’s day or night.

Driven by economic and environmental uncertainty and a looming recession, consumers are shifting their priorities and gravitating towards products they can truly depend on. And that certainly includes fashion. The denim maxi offers what the mini simply couldn’t: a promise of reliability and stability that resonates deeply in our unpredictable world.

Headshot of Boutayna Chokrane

Boutayna Chokrane

Boutayna Chokrane (she/her) is an arts and culture writer who has written for Rolling Stone, the Chicago Reader, and more. Her passions include fashion, health and fitness, ’90s sitcoms, and reality TV. Follow her on Twitter.

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