One of the most popular additions to the latest generation of jeans is stretch. Just a bit of stretch goes a long way in enhancing denim’s wear and in helping the jean maintain its integrity, says Kim Tuber, vice president of sales and marketing at Paper, Denim and Cloth, a premium denim label. “It’s due to high-quality 2 to 3 percent stretch fabric, which doesn’t bag or stretch out; it stays clean.” One in three women respondents affirmed to the Cot ton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ that she specifically seeks out denim jeans with stretch.

The ability of stretch to assist an enduring fit is good news for the 56 percent of women who told the Monitor that they had worn jeans that lost their shape. For these women, the solution was simple — laundering. More than two out of three women told the Monitor that their jeans returned to original shape after a quick turn in the washing machine and dryer. Fit is so meaningful that 77 percent of women told the Monitor that they would be “somewhat” to “very likely” to purchase a pair of jeans that maintained their original shape while wearing.

“I think that we expect a lot from our jeans now. Since they represent a large investment for most of us, we want to be able to wear them all the time and for them to still be flattering,” explains Tracy Wilkinson, designer and owner of Mon Petit Oiseau, a small independent clothing brand founded in California.

Likelihood of Purchasing a Pair of Jeans That Would Maintain Shape While You Wear Them:
  Total Females
Very Likely 49%
Somewhat Likely 28%
Neither Likely/Unlikely 10%
Somewhat Unlikely 5%
Very Unlikely 7%

Denim’s resiliency may be one of the reasons that women cannot seem to get enough of this enduring apparel icon. In the third quarter of 2006, seven out of 10 women told the Monitor that they might buy one or two, or even several denim garments in the coming months. On average, according to the Monitor, women own 15 denim garments, with jeans comprising half of this number. Shorts and skirts ranked the second and third, respectively, most prevalent silhouettes in women’s closets.

“Women have an all-time high ownership of denim; so clearly each pair is special to them,” says Tuber from Paper, Denim and Cloth. She adds that no matter how many a woman may own, each jean seems to have a purpose. “Women tend to select darker, skinnier fits for evening; and lighter, a little more ‘beaten up’ boot cuts for day.”

“Women today are purchasing so many pairs of jeans not only because they are an easy fashion statement that are acceptable dressed up or dressed down, but because they are a status symbol, ” offers Allen B. Schwartz, founder of the eponymous labels, which also include a luxury denim line. “But, because it is still hard to find a great pair of jeans that maintain their fit, women are willing to spend the money on a new pair regardless of how many they already have in their closets. One of the reasons the A.B.S. denim line sells so well is that the customers love the fit and the fit maintains its shape even after many wears.”

Are there drawbacks to the laundering process many women favor for reshaping their jeans? Not really. According to the Monitor, 61percent of female respondents stated that they didn’t notice any shrinkage the last time they laundered their jeans. Emily Lauridsen, head designer of Odyn, a premium denim collection, credits a better grade of denim. “Good, high-quality denim would not stretch out of shape,” she explains. “It may give about a half a millimeter with wear, but no more. It could be the prevalence of premium denim and overall increase in denim fabric quality over the last five years that has probably led to women perceiving less shrinkage. Basically, when it comes to denim,” Lauridsen concludes, “you get what you pay for.”

Part of what we pay for is processing and tailoring. “Most high-end jeans go through a sophisticated system of pre-washing and fitting, which means that they don’t shrink as much as they did in the past,” says Wilkinson, the designer.

Allen Schwartz concurs. “Our denim is prewashed, so there isn’t the shrinkage like the denims in the past. In fact, we have zero shrinkage.” For his A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz denim line, Schwartz explains that, “with the spandex elastane technology integrated, our jeans also adapt to a woman’s figure, giving our customers a perfect fit.”

In addition to perfect fit, near-perfect ease-ofcare is another stellar denim attribute. When asked about the amount of wrinkling they experienced the last time they washed and machine dried their jeans, 82 percent of women told the Monitor that their jeans were not at all or only slightly wrinkled.

The enduring popularity of the blue jean is largely due to its comfort and fit. In fact, few other apparel items actually mold to the wearer’s body and adapt to their movements. The addition of stretch, especially in higher-quality denim, has evolved the jean to a better-fitting, more resilient and adaptable garment with enhanced easycare benefits.
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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