It’s time to put your big boy pants on again. The year-plus of quarantine was dominated by sweatsuit sales, and many people got used to a life lived in elastic waistbands. “Will I Ever Wear Pants Again?” one story from The Cut asked. We at GQ answered: “We Are Living In the Age of Sweatpants and Never Going Back.” But hasty proclamations to kill off jeans failed to take the long view: one day, we would emerge from quarantine. And just like before we went in, jeans would be the choice for many trying to look presentable in a post-pandemic world.
The evidence is all over the place. Scrolling through images of people out and about, it’s impossible not to notice the switch. The latest public photos of Rihanna show her wearing an Adidas tracksuit one day and then—voila—faded, high-waisted jeans the next. This is happening across the celebrity universe. The Adam Sandler-sized Drew basketball shorts Justin Bieber wore out for a nice dinner in early March transformed into jeans by early May. Jaden Smith was “seen leaving Nobu”—the three biggest words in pandemic fine dining—in denim. Alexander Skarsgård strolled New York City in jeans. Chris Hemsworth dined out in denim. What these celebs have in common is that they were not photographed on sanity strolls, running into a restaurant to pick up food, or finishing up a quick errand. They were all going out, and that calls for something more than sweatpants.
Throughout the pandemic, clothes have been a useful measuring stick for our confidence, or lack thereof. It’s no surprise that in the dog days of the pandemic, sweatpants sales were through the roof. The New York Times reported last April that even as clothing sales overall plummeted 79%, sweatpants sales were up 80%. The rollout of vaccines is having the opposite effect on apparel sales. Customers’ cautious optimism seems to be reflected in the clothes they’re buying. All the jean stats are now pointing upwards: Levi’s expects revenues to grow by about a quarter in the first half of this year. At L.L. Bean, “pants with buttons and zippers have begun outselling those with drawstrings or elastic waistbands” over the past few weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The good news is that pants didn’t remain in stasis during quarantine. You may have heard that skinny jeans are dead. The teens are saying it, and even the designer Mike Amiri, who made a killing on thigh-hugging jeans, unceremoniously dumped them last month. Not unlike folks who learned how to bake bread or became master yogis during quarantine, jeans, too, picked up a few new tricks. Look no further than the legendary Diane Keaton, who took her dog for a walk in peak denim: huge and voluminous with pockets large enough to stash your keys, wallets, and all your hopes and dreams.
The jean comeback is reflected everywhere you look: a recent American Express commercial shows a woman getting back into her jeans. “It’s coming back to you now,” a narrator says in a gentle tone before letting out a sigh of relief. “Real pants.” The woman buttons her last button, and she smiles. Jeans are back—and they have come to represent a return to normalcy. And if you haven’t gotten back onto the hard pants express yet, you’re in luck: Levi’s just so happens to have a massive sale going on right now.