How cotton inflation keeps our jeans skinny

interns Contributor
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To be sure, direr consequences will follow from record-high commodities prices. (Bread riots come to mind.) But way down the list, there’s this: Jeans are going to have to stay skinny at least a while longer.

We think of fashion as driven by fancy; even in “hemline theory,” which states that skirt lengths track economic health, it’s the ephemeral public mood that’s said to usher in minis with frisky stock prices and maxis with dropping indexes. But at the mass-market level, every garment is as much a product of a spreadsheet as the muse, and right now the former is showing cotton prices up 126 percent from last July. That translates to about a dollar more per raw pound—a jump of approximately $2.12 for a pair of dungarees. And prices are climbing so fast that factories in China are giving quotes valid for only three days. So even though some designers and magazine editors have been pushing for an antidote to skinny jeans—which were shrink-wrapping trend-conscious legs even before designer Nicolas Ghesquière sent models down the Balenciaga runway in veritable scuba gear in 2003—there’s an economic disincentive to adopt a wider-legged look. Denim manufacturers, able to pass on only so much of the cost to skittish shoppers, find themselves in the position of needing to maintain trends rather than prescribe them.

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