How Marks & Spencer mastered the art of cheap and chic denim

How Marks & Spencer mastered the art of cheap and chic denim… as one in five women buy jeans there

Denim jeans are one of the great fashion classics. Loved by everyone from J-Lo to Kate Moss, in 2023 jeans have become the most frequently worn item of clothing globally.

This year, the iconic Levi’s button-down 501 jean turned 150: it was in 1873 that Levi Strauss created these hardwearing pieces of clothing for the American workers who had travelled west to pan for gold. What a long way that denim has travelled since then.

Now, a survey shows that one in five British women have bought theirs from Marks & Spencer. Sales of M&S’s Everyday Fit Denim jeans alone – retailing at £22.50 – have topped 1.6 million, and sales of jeans overall at the store are up by 10 per cent on 2022.

M&S has had a tough decade, but over the past couple of years, there’s been evidence of this retail juggernaut finally being steered onto a more successful course. Making changes in a huge organisation is painfully slow, but the new womenswear director, Maddy Evans, who spent 20 years at Topshop, can claim some credit for the uplift in womenswear sales and fashionability.

Alexandra Shulman is pictured wearing her favourite M&S blue wide-leg jeans

Holly Willoughby (pictured) and Sam Biones are both M&S fashion influencers

Vogue Williams (pictured) shows off a pair of M&S blue jeans 

Trends in denim travel fast, and one of the hazards of being a business the size of M&S is that by the time a trend takes off and your customers want it, it’s over. But M&S seems to have taken a lesson from Zara and ramped up its speed of production.

This summer, when the 1970s style of high-waisted, wide-legged jeans were seen on stars from Rachel Weisz to Kendall Jenner, to Riley Keough and Suki Waterhouse in Amazon Prime’s heavily promoted, hit series Daisy Jones & The Six, the store was ready with them – 22,000 pairs were snapped up to be exact, only a thousand less than the long-term favourite skinny silhouette.

Not only has M&S been prepared to broaden its denim range to incorporate new trends, but they have been helped on their way by how ridiculously expensive fashion jeans have become in recent years.

I have several pairs in my wardrobe from designer brands such as Frame and 7 For All Mankind. I can’t fault them on style and fit, but they certainly don’t come cheap. The average price for the vast range of jeans now available on upmarket sites such as Net-a-Porter, comes in at more than £250.

Yet, M&S is able to deliver its new season wide-leg jeans at just a tad over a tenth of that price.

Alex Leigh shows her Instagram followers a pair of blue jeans from M&S 

Loved by everyone from J-Lo to Kate Moss, in 2023 jeans have become the most frequently worn item of clothing globally. Pictured: Sam Biones 

In these cash-straitened times, spending money on special items that can be cherished for years can be justified, but most of us are wary of spending it where we don’t need to – like on a pair of jeans.

M&S knows that it has a long way to go to compete with the kudos of fashion brands. And if it has any sense, it won’t even attempt to. Instead, M&S is playing to its strengths, investing in denim technology that helps give a flattering shape to its average customer, who is upwards of 40 years old and a size 14.

For this core shopper, M&S denim is a safe space. Whether it’s via the brand’s online site (where a large number of styles can be found exclusively) or in store, jeans shopping at M&S lacks the fear factor it creates in other places. An older woman may well be uncomfortable, even if she can afford it, confronting Victoria Beckham’s weird patchwork jeans, or resent the time wasted in upmarket department stores such as Harrods or Liberty, where the piles of denim appear baffling. 

Even John Lewis’s jeans section can be a confusing spot in which to find what you want. Although I have long been a critic of M&S’s habit of hanging trousers from the waistband, as it makes them look frumpy, this does make it easier to see their shape, rather than having to rifle through piles of folded jeans where length, width and hem style are less than obvious.

It’s an added bonus that the store gives detailed information about the production of its range, focusing on environmentally-sound practices, since denim is notoriously demanding on natural resources. It’s not only the young who are concerned about the well-being of the planet.

Gone are the flashy details and naff stitching. Instead, the focus has been stripped down to well-cut, fuss-free styles that will work for all ages.

A pair of jeans that will help give us a great shape at a feel-good price. What more could we want?

Winning styles inspired by designer brands 

1970s Flare

Blow out (left) Victoria Beckham Alina, £665 and budget (right) Per Una wide-leg, £45 and budget Per Una wide-leg, £45

Classic Straight 

Blow out (left) The Row Lesley, £500 and budget (right) Sienna supersoft, £32.50

Slim fit

Blow out (left) Mother Denim The Tomcat, £315 and budget (right) Lily, £25

Slim flare

Blow out (left) Frame Le Super High Flare, £245 and budget (right) Per Una Lyocell, £35

Slouchy Boyfriend 

Blow out (left) Agolde Fusion wide-leg, £290 and budget (right) M&S The Wide-Leg, £35

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