Even though the early part of this year had some people stoking the argument that denim had reached the saturation point - and men would be looking for the next big thing in bottoms - the truth is, the jeans movement continues, at all price levels.

There are still so many brands in and entering the market, one needs a ticker to keep track of them all. On top of that, designers continue to slip denim into their collections, providing fuel for the aspirational set seeking the latest elite premium. And a new trend in the premium market has brands introducing lower price lines, and maintaining lower opening price points in a move to reach mainstream customers.

Whether worn with $500 Euro flip flops, or a flea market message tee, denim continues its reign as so much Americana, the egalitarian pant whether someone wants the cache of dropping a lot...or not.

A big reason why denim's popularity continues is that men simply prefer to wear it more than any other bottom. Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ reports 71 percent of men prefer denim jeans to casual slacks. That number increases to 78 percent among young males 16-24 years old. Additionally, 73 percent of white men and 63 percent of African American males prefer denim over casual slacks.

"There really is something for everyone in the denim market," says Jami Branch, buyer for the San Luis Obispo, CA-based Uptown Jean Co., and Addicted stores. Their top denim lines at the moment are Diesel, William Rast and Chip & Pepper. "I catch wind of new denim lines daily.

Men’s Trouser Preference

 The top lines, such as Diesel, 7 For All Mankind, Hudson, Citizens of Humanity, Chip & Pepper, and Frankie B., will remain the 'staple' premium denim companies for years to come. There are a few new entrants over the last couple of years that are making a big statement, primarily due to their celebrity backing. William Rast, for example, seems to be an instant success."Nearly three-quarters of all men either like or love wearing denim. Appreciation is highest among men aged 56-to-70, with 64 percent enjoying wearing denim, and 16 percent saying their wardrobe is full of denim and that they "love it."

Elite premium will always have its fans, and prices will never hit a ceiling due to the exclusivity such product carries, says the Doneger Group's Tim Bess, market analyst. "It does smaller volume, of course, but it's an important part of the pyramid - it attracts the all-important, media-seeking status customer," he relates. "Super premium is not slowing [in sales]. It has the elite factor. It's more expensive, which usually means more exclusive. And $200 and above is the norm for super premium, with designer denim like Dolce topping $300."

Branch says at her stores, prices generally top out at $250, with $160-$200 being the sweet spot.

De•Fine Clothing is located in gentrified Hoboken, NJ. The mile-square city with enviable views of Manhattan has seen many incarnations. It went from a working class town, to a partying college town, to its current status as a trendy enclave for high-income young professionals, replete with a W Hotel on the water.

"We get some college kids who love Affliction tees," says Roberto Barca, the boutique's co-owner along with Steve DiPasquale. "But our clientele is full of 25-to-45 year olds who want special things. We have people on budgets, and people with unlimited budgets, and our denim lines reflect that."

Barca, too, says he's seeing many new entrants in the premium denim market. "A lot of brands that didn't do denim are getting into it; so it's still hot. I spoke to some of our vendors and they're just starting denim now."

Barca says some of De•Fine's best-selling jeans include Energie, X-Ray, and 575. Prices range from $75 to more than $300. "There are definitely people who can and will spend a lot. And there are others who can't afford or don't want to."

The Monitor shows that, among those who have denim in their wardrobe, men on average would pay $32.27 for a pair of good-fitting jeans. At $37.95, black men spend more than any other group, followed by young men aged 16-24, who would pay $37.09. Caucasian males are willing to spend $31.09.Doneger's Bess is a true believer in the under-$50 denim jean. "All the denim jeans I currently own are in the $40 range," he says. "It's all about Levi and the other heritage brands like Wrangler, Lee. You can buy a cool, clean pair of Levi's for under $50, or even under $40, and they are the denim of choice for hip, cool men. They're the original and have the cleanest back pocket of all. Also, they have the best raw denim on the market."

At Gap stores, men's denim tops out at around $50.

"The trends are still moving towards slim and straight leg jeans," says Brian Bartholomew, style expert. "The key washes for fall are very clean, but run the gamut from really dark to really worn and washed."

Doneger's Bess agrees that a calm, cleaned-up look is happening in denim right now, and he's looking forward to the coming trends. "Tricked out denim looks very last season. Clean denim is very now. But how much clean denim does a man need? The pendulum will swing back next year to 'interesting' washes, '80s colors and new 'old styles' like pleats, a dropped crotch. Enough newness is coming down the denim pipeline over the next few seasons."

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing monthly in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American men's wear consumer and his attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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