Alex, a twenty year old nursing student, is looking forward to starting her senior year of college, and she is particularly excited about shopping for her new school wardrobe. "I always start with jeans, typically two to three pairs, and build around those," the nursing student shares. "I usually wear denim every day and it always works."

According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor, the average female aged 16 to 24 owns nine pairs of jeans and two denim skirts, one more of each silhouette than the average female in the general population owns.

"Jeans are incredibly important to this consumer; they allow her to look just like her peers, yet still stand out individually," cedes Stephen Hardy, a co-founder of Plan B Jeans. "Denim is the most important garment in her wardrobe."

Denim Garments in Wardrobe
  Total FemalesFemales 16 to 24
Mean Number of Pairs of Jeans89
Mean Number of Denim Skirts12


Seven out of ten females confide to the Monitor that they prefer to go places where they can wear jeans, but as Hardy muses, that high number is likely a reflection of both female preference and the acceptability of denim in practically every environment today. "I can hardly think of a place that a dark jean can't go," he adds."Back to school provides one of the biggest jolts to the denim market each year," says Rob Holloway, a co-founder of Zafu.com, a web site dedicated to helping women find the perfect fitting pair of jeans. "The great news today is that this customer is able to find terrific fit and style at a variety of price points."

Whether she is headed back to school or not, the typical woman is already well educated on the subject of denim, explains Claire Dupuis, a senior trend forecaster for Cotton Incorporated. "Today's consumer knows about fabric and she is knowledgeable about color and trend. She even uses trade terms, like vintage wash and whiskering: this customer knows what she is buying in denim today."

Dupuis credits the premium denim market, jeans selling for $70 and above, for the near ubiquity of quality jeans at every level of retail today. "Premium brands established a high standard," she tells. "Most other brands have stepped up their quality and detailing for today's savvy customer and the results are great jeans at a host of different price points."

According to the Monitor, the average price a female respondent would pay for a pair of jeans in the first quarter of 2007 was $37.59; that price was virtually flat to the price she was willing to pay in the same period a year earlier.

"We've seen so many great jeans that sell for under $40 and they offer great fit and quality," Holloway affirms.

"I think that women really love denim; it's the great American uniform, especially when it comes to back to school wardrobes," offers June Beckstead, Vice President of Design for Apparel for Sears Holding Corporation, parent of Kmart and Sears. "We are focused on selling to the whole family and we want to make it really easy for Mom to get what she needs for herself and others."

Kate Parkhouse, Public Relations Coordinator for JCPenney cites the versatility of denim as a wardrobe staple. "Denim goes with nearly everything and is easy to mix and match and dress up or down." Adds Parkhouse, "We strive to stay relevant to the youth market and support their individuality, yet still remain approachable to Mom."According to the Monitor, 42 percent of female respondents will need to buy back to school clothing for themselves or a family member, up from 37 percent stating the same need a year earlier. Not only will they be buying, but buying early. Eighty-four percent of female respondents stated that they plan to buy before the start of school, up from 76 percent who said they would shop in anticipation of the school year one year ago. Top reasons women shop early include the desires to take advantage of back-to-school sales (30 percent) and be prepared (28 percent), followed by the need for new children's clothing (19 percent).

Denim styles women will be scooping up this fall include wider cuts, darker washes and cleaner silhouettes. "This season is about the wide leg in a soft comfortable cut that is flattering to so many body types. Black or intense colors, like deeply rich indigo, will also be really important," Hardy from Plan B shares. "Looks will be a lot cleaner; denim is back to its true roots with a simple but great five pocket jean," says Beckstead from Sears Holding.

Dupuis' assertion that women really keep abreast of trends in denim has merit; according to the Monitor, 37 percent of female respondents indicate that their next denim purchase will be a dark blue, up from 31 percent making the same claim a year earlier.

Denim for back-to-school is not just about jeans; expect to see other silhouettes. "There are a lot of denim tunic dresses, shirts, skirts and updated denim jackets in both the women and children's markets," Dupuis predicts. "There are definitely skirts, particularly minis for younger girls and the new denim jacket has new details, like a denim blazer with ruching on the pockets or puff sleeves," says Beckstead, the retailer.

With a wide selection of great styles and affordable prices, today's educated consumer will likely be ushering denim to the head of the class this back-to-school season.

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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