Image: Wikimedia Commons

"Four lads in skinny jeans" think it's over for tight trousers – but surprisingly, Gen Z are now into them. Where are you on your "trouser journey"?

This spring is not about florals, The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly would be pleased to hear. Instead, according to Vogue, GQ and Cosmopolitan, it's the season of the cargo pant. A view further bolstered by the UK's "four lads in skinny jeans", who four years after that viral photo, recently gathered once again for a picture, but this time, instead of wearing ankle-crushing denim, they were sporting a selection of baggy trousers and cargoes.

In an interview, the "lads" predicted it would be a few years at least until the skinny jean made its return. But if Lila Moss and Emily Ratajkowski's recent outfits are anything to go by, they're already back on the circuit – perhaps inspired by brands like Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton who featured them heavily in their autumn/winter 2024 collections.  

The baggy v skinny fit is a debate that persists – only more so now that voluminous cargo pants have become popular again. Historically skinny jeans have been favoured by millennials, whilst Gen-Z have embraced the baggier look, but is that changing? Before we delve into the debate, it's worth asking why there's so much chat about trousers in the first place. 

For Chicago-based stylist and content creator Jabari Sandifer, trousers are now the garment to style your outfit around. He believes the trend is born from a desire to make the most of a whole fit, unlike the pandemic when many were dressing purely for Zoom.  

The cargo pants trend

Jabari points out the pandemic was a time of dressing comfortably and, on the other side, we didn't want to let that go, which is why many men embraced the baggy pant. "Wide-leg trousers are the most comfortable style of pant to wear outside of the house," he tells the BBC. "During lockdowns we dressed casually and that casualisation of everyone's wardrobe still exists, except now, everyone wants to look good. Wide trousers allow you both comfort and style". 

The 29-year-old says the wide-leg look for men has been slowly creeping into the mainstream over the past two years, but only became accessible when streetwear brands embraced it. 

"I've seen wide-leg jeans and cargoes on runways for a while with brands like Gucci and Prada," he says, "but when Off White and Kanye's Yeezy collection pioneered the wide leg, it took off." He also credits influential celebrities including Harry Styles and Luka Sabbat who have been on their own "trouser journey". "They used to wear skinny jeans, and we all watched their journey to wearing a baggier look," he jokes. "Ultimately, we're all on that journey and we all get there at some point!"

Historically men's fashion cycles have lasted longer than women's, but Jabari thinks that's changing because of social media. He explains that with TikTok, individuals don't have to seek out fashion content by following accounts or scrolling on the sites of publications like GQ or Vogue. Instead, it's served to them by algorithms and it's on apps like TikTok that skinny jeans don't seem to be welcome. The past six months have seen "For You" pages full of the "POV: you stopped wearing skinny jeans" trend – a collection of videos where men compare before and after pics of life with and without skinny jeans.  

For now, the cargo is having a moment, but Jabari doesn't know how long lived its future will be. "Skinny jeans lost their cool about four years ago, but I think we'll settle somewhere halfway. When I look at style icons whose looks never date, someone like Ralph Lauren comes to mind. He always wore Levi's 501s, which are the most classic jean and more straight leg." He adds, "I hope skinny jeans don't make a return".

Are skinny jeans back?

Elona and Lediona Zharku disagree. The 24-year-old cousins are co-owners of Tired Thrift, a vintage shop in Brooklyn, New York, that focuses on 90s and Y2K styles. Enthusiastically, Elona declares "skinny jeans are IN". Their store has a Gen-Z client base and sells lots of skinny jeans, but with a twist. "We're selling them in Capri form, so slightly below the knee but still super skinny. We also sell the full-length skinnies but they tend to be styled with a knee-high boot or ballet pumps." The experience of Tired Thrift seems to be reflective of what's happening elsewhere.

But where has this inspiration come from? Courtesy of Back to Black, Amy Winehouse is once again front and centre of Pinterest mood boards. A skinny jean, you might remember, was a classic look for the singer. Elsewhere as Beyoncé enters her Cowboy Carter era, the star has been wearing skinny jeans tucked into cowboy boots. Lediona tells the BBC that the "Western trend" is very in: "We sell lots of cowboy related items too".

No one epitomises that more than "Miss Bella Hadid", Elona quickly adds. "She is the cult leader for fashion girlies in New York, and she is all about that Western skinny jean look."  

Given the customers of Tired Thrift are Gen-Z, what is Lediona and Elona's view on whether skinny v wide is a generational matter? Back in 2021, Gen-Zers came for the skinny jean on TikTok, but it seems that sentiment has changed. Elona says it's all about wearing things ironically.  

"We did it with basketball shorts and Ugg boots. They're both quite ugly, and so was Indie sleaze, but Gen-Z are obsessed with wearing things ironically and they somehow always end up sticking. I think the same thing is happening with skinny jeans." 

The Y2K aesthetic

Lauren Glazer can recall a time before skinny jeans became ironic – she's a 90s baby. The celebrity stylist, who also consults for brands, used to be a denim buyer. She remembers the period skinny jeans dropped out of fashion in favour of wide-leg cuts, a move that coincided with body inclusivity in the fashion world. But in Lauren's opinion, times are changing, and for the better. She now says our approach to the jean is different. 

"We're about celebrating women's bodies," she tells the BBC. "To all my clients I say 'skinny jeans suit everyone, whether you're curvy or petite, if you like them, wear them'. Back when Kate Moss was wearing them daily you felt you needed to be skinny, but now we're far more about wellness and dressing for ourselves." 

When it comes to her clients, the majority of whom are millennial, Lauren says she's seeing more openness to the skinny jean, but there's a hesitancy to go back. 

If you were born in the 90s, she says "you remember One Direction wearing skinny jeans and you were probably living in skinny jeans because that was all we wore. So, I think millennials, especially women, but also men, feel a need to evolve from the look and not go back to where they started." 

Her fashion advice to any hesitant millennials tempted to try them again? "Don't. Instead, go for a straight leg jean like a Levi, they're far more likely to stay in fashion."