Older Millennials are beginning to embrace denim in a bigger way, even as the younger portion of the generation exhibits considerably less enthusiasm about their jeans.
An analysis of data by The NPD Group of Port Washington, N.Y., shows that during the 12 months ended in May, dollar sales of jeans at retail fell 5 percent, even though sales among Millennials — those aged 18 to 34 — increased 2 percent. No other demographic group generated an increase in its share of the jeans market, which rose to 28 percent from 26 percent in the comparable year-ago period. This gives the group the largest share of the denim market, perhaps not shocking considering, at 92 million, they are the largest generation in the history of the U.S.
But the Millennial increase is far from uniform as the sales among older Millennials, aged 25 to 34, jumped 13 percent while those among their younger counterparts, including those of college age, fell.
The split is somewhat reminiscent of the fashion and other cultural splits between older and younger baby boomers more than a generation ago. What remains to be seen is whether the younger Millennials will follow in the footsteps of their older counterparts into the denim fold, as the younger boomers did.
As with the boomers, the age of 30 appears to be an important line of demarcation.
“The older Millennials are coming into a bit of discretionary spending money and finding new reasons to replenish their denim wardrobes,” noted Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD, “but the age of 30 is generally when women and men begin to change size and add an inch or two in the waistline. We spend a lot of time in research looking at the emotional stages of people’s lives, but life stages play an important role, too.
“A lot of the swing of this pendulum is because of need rather than desire,” he said.
NPD’s research revealed some eye-opening findings about the way the various generations perceive their jeans. Overall, 63 percent of respondents agreed they love their jeans, but just over half that many, 32 percent, said they had bought jeans for themselves in the past five months, and a quarter felt they “can’t find jeans they like or that fit well.”
Among Millennials, love of one’s jeans is less intense – 59 percent – and, as purchase patterns might suggest, consumption is higher, with 42 percent of the 18-to-34 year old sample buying. But frustration with fit and the product in general is consistent with the 25 percent overall result.
“It’s clear that the older Millennials need more attention,” Cohen said. “Why aren’t we seeing more age-sympathetic fits and styles? Baby boomers for nearly their entire lives have lived and loved in their jeans. They don’t give them up, but the market really isn’t catering to them either. You don’t run away from your most dependable market, but you can’t be a one-trick pony either.”
In the NPD study, baby boomers’ share of jeans sales fell to 23 percent of overall dollar sales from 24 percent in the 12 months ended May 2014. No age segment shows a higher “love level” for their jeans than the boomers — at 73 percent, the highest by far of any group — but no group is more frustrated about their options: 27 percent said they can’t find jeans they like or that fit well, two points above the 25 percent overall figure and the identical share of the Millennials who feel the same way.
Cohen feels the denim market’s move away from color following the “denim crush” — he prefers the term to “crash” — several seasons ago has begun to work against it. “You see plenty of color in outerwear, ath-leisure and socks and outside of apparel in electronics and housewares,” he said. “But jeans? They almost seem scared of it.”