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’90s Jeans Are Taking Back the Mall, One Retro Silhouette at a Time

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'90s Jeans Are Taking Back the Mall One Retro Silhouette at a Time

New releases from Abercrombie, Gap, and Levi’s pull inspiration from the brands’ analog heyday. 

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The 1990s gave rise to plenty of questionable swerves, some of them more enduring than others. There were the grungy flannels, inexplicably tied at the waist, and the shapeless power suits, anchored by clunky, squared-off dress shoes. In 2023, though, it’s the era’s denim that seems the most ubiquitous: big, baggy ‘90s jeans are absolutely everywhere right now—including at the mall, the last place you’d expect to see them again. 

A few decades ago, the only way to score a pair of jeans involved firing up your Ford Explorer (an Eddie Bauer Edition, natch) and hitting the closest galleria. Times are a little different now, to say the least, but the brands that made your local mall the de facto watering hole of every social tribe in the high school cafeteria must be feeling nostalgic for their heyday: Gap, Abercrombie, and Levi’s are all bringing back the type of jeans that dominated their stores shelves during the Clinton administration. 

To be clear, none of them are suddenly churning out comically large JNCO-adjacent jeans—they’re simply updating the denim that helped put them on the map in the first place. Levi’s’ reworked 501 tweaks the California brand’s most iconic style only slightly, with a marginally higher rise and a touch of stretch for extra comfort. Abercrombie’s ’90s-indebted jeans come in a classic straight-fit and a range of washes. And Gap splits the difference by way of two different silhouettes, depending on how hard you want to lean into the look.

That three of the ’90s biggest brands are mining their archives for inspiration isn’t a coincidence. You don’t have to be an eagle-eyed trend obsessive to notice that the decade really is back, in ways big and small. Vintage Levi’s are so popular that the brand started selling pre-loved pairs on its own website in an effort to supply young, thrift-hungry shoppers with the chilled-out silhouettes they’re clamoring for. 

The quickest way to make your ‘90s jeans feel at home in 2023 is a little counterintuitive: start by introducing ‘em to everything in your closet that wouldn’t look out of place in a paparazzi shot of a young Denzel Washington. A droopy topcoat (try one with raglan sleeves and a belted waist), scuzzy cardigan (think Cobain on MTV in ’94), and a boxy T-shirt (maybe even half-tucked into your ginormous jeans!) are all great places to get the creative juices flowing. The next move after that? Doing the most 2023 thing possible: flicking yourself up and waiting for the double-taps to start rolling in. See you at Claire’s!

Abercrombie ‘90s straight jeans

$79

Abercrombie

Abercrombie ‘90s straight jeans

$80

Abercrombie

Gap ‘90s original straight selvedge jeans

Gap ‘90s original loose jeans

Levis 501 ‘93 jeans

Levis 501 ‘93 jeans

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