Recently, the New York Post ran an article heralding the end of the $300 denim jean. Shortly thereafter,The New York Times countered with an article titled "When Price is the Allure," referring to an apparel item's high-price being part of its draw. So, for the denim market, which point of view rings true blue? The answer is both – and everything in between.

The appeal of denim is so universal and remains so strong that, instead of the predicted slow down, the market just seems to be righting itself—a blue chip correction, if you will.

Feelings About Denim
Enjoy Wearing Denim59.7%
Wardrobe Is Full of Denim/Love it23.2%
Some Denim, Don't Wear Much15.1%
Denim is Not for Me1.7%

At the high end of the spectrum, the elite denim category is in the enviable position of being attractive simply because it exists – and this segment certainly has its exclusive clientele. Meanwhile, premium denim continues to add new players, but most brands at this level have capped the price point between $100 and $200 with some even introducing lines for under $100. And, as always, there are plenty of opening price point lines that appeal to the many who covet high-end style but must adhere to a tighter budget.

The denim market correction is working out for both sides of the sales counter. The current market environment boasts the largest share ever of women who love/enjoy denim, according to Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™. Presently, about 60% of women say they "enjoy" wearing denim, while 23% say their wardrobes are "full of it" and that they "love it."Allison Levy, merchandise manager for global fashion and trend consultancy The Doneger Group, believes that trends fuel consumer passions, surpassing even brand equity in the current denim market. Levy cites the fact that most people already have a considerable denim wardrobe and are looking for the next new thing—beyond a five-pocket jean.

"The strong brands I'm seeing are coming from Los Angeles or Europe," she says. "And they're either coming out with a new trend, like a high waist or a wide leg, or doing an interesting color treatment. The point is they are presenting something new."

Gap stores are looking to capitalize on denim's renewed momentum with three key trends: the denim trouser, a high-waist style and a skinny silhouette.

"It's always more exciting when everyone can participate in a trend," says Gap's Brian Bartholomew, style expert. "Right now, the different styles and silhouettes of jeans at Gap allow almost all women to try something new. Skinny jeans are still selling strong, high-waist jeans are very new and very cool and trouser jeans look great on almost everyone while still being very much on-trend."

Whether trendy or traditional, consumer preference for denim is growing. Given the choice, 76% of Monitor respondents said they would prefer to wear denim, versus casual slacks. This denim preference reflects an increase of 7 percentage points from last year, and 16 percentage points from a decade ago.

The key lesson to be learned from recent changes in the denim market is that while consumers crave denim, the have-it-at-anyprice frenzy has passed. The Monitor shows the average price a woman pays for a pair of goodfitting jeans is $37.59, with the majority (28.2%) spending $21-to-$30. Most women are seeking a good fit more than anything else.

That's the case at Uptown Jean Co., and Addicted, sister shops in San Luis Obispo, CA.

"In areas like New York, L.A. and San Francisco, the consumer is more label and image focused," relates Jami Branch, the buyer for both stores. "In smaller, more conservative communities like ours, we see both ends of the spectrum, but primarily consumers are seeking fit over price point. And they still want to maintain an image and seek out recognizable brands."Branch's top brands now are Diesel, William Rast, and Chip & Pepper.

"In our stores, we generally top out at $250, with $150-to-$200 being our sweet spot," Branch says. "More than $250 seems now to be pushing the envelope. If it's under $200, however, our consumer doesn't seem to have any hesitation."

Doneger's Levy says in the premium market, the bulk of the price points are in the $150-to-$200 range, led by Paige, 7 For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and Genetic. "When designers try to cash in on their name, you'll see $400 jeans. But that's not where the concentration is."

De.Fine's brands include Flying Monkey, Plastic Denim, 575 and 7s. Barca says his customers buy a variety of denim, at a range of price points. "They buy some for $250 or $300, and others for $75 or $80 depending on what they're wearing them for, and the look. Even among people with unlimited budgets, their choice has a lot to do with how it looks."

At Coastal Collections in Seattle, brands like Roxy, Billabong, Matix and Volcom top out at about $85, appealing to the customer who's primarily in her 20s. Right now, Coastal's customer is asking for skinny jeans and black denim.

Allison Bhang, a store sales representative for Coastal Collections sums up the current consumer mindset: "Our customers aren't looking for the $200 jean,"— but they can get a good quality pair that's right on-trend for a reasonable price."

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

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