Big, bright baggy: The era of supersized clothing

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • At the turn of the New Millennium, this dressing style lost its appeal as skinny jeans and other tight-fitted clothing items gained popularity.
  • It is only recently that this style has made a comeback as the younger generations embrace comfort, individuality, and style.
  • Celebrities such as Rihanna, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles were among the first to rock this look.

By Michael Ochieng
Gone, it seems, are the days of squeezing into skinny jeans and tight tops to achieve a petite silhouette. Young people across the world now prefer comfortable and expressive clothing such as loose-fitting jeans, crop tops, and oversized shirts and trousers.

The reawakening of this ‘baggy’ trend signals an interesting shift in fashion preferences, and can be viewed as a method of reaching back to trends from the olden days. Millennials and Generation Z, known for their unapologetic love for individuality and self-expression, has played a significant role in bringing baggy clothes back into the fashion spotlight.

This revival reflects a generation's quest for fashion authenticity, as they explore their own identity and redefine existing trends.

History and evolution of the baggy trend
Oversize clothing rose to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, especially among hip-hop, street dance, and skateboarding fans. It is often claimed the style originated in the United States prison system where belts were sometimes prohibited for fear that they could be used as weapons. Getting appropriately sized clothing in those confinements was often a struggle, yet prisoners were not allowed to have belts or shoelaces, which led many of them to spot sagging pants.

This method was then quickly adopted by gang members and rappers who wanted to recreate the prison look or hide weapons under their clothes, by street and breakdancers who were seeking comfort and ease of movement, by people who wore hand-me-downs due to poverty and also by those who wanted to rebel against the mainstream style of the time, which featured tight-fitting clothes.

Baggy clothes have been styled differently over time, depending on the cultural and historical context. One of the factors that influenced the styling of baggy clothes was the origin and purpose of wearing such clothes.

The type and size of the baggy clothes also varied from person to person. Some wore oversized jackets, sweaters, t-shirts, or pants, while others wore wide-leg jeans, cargo pants, or sweatpants. Others complemented their baggy wear with accessories such as chains, hats, bandanas, or sunglasses including footwear like sneakers, boots, or sandals.

Christine Akinyi, a commercial model, poses in her favourite side pocket jeans.
Photo credit: Billy Ogada

At the turn of the New Millennium, this dressing style lost its appeal as skinny jeans and other tight-fitted clothing items gained popularity. It is only recently that this style has made a comeback as the younger generations embrace comfort, individuality, and style. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles were among the first to rock this look.

Like all fashion trends, the shapes and silhouettes of jeans cycle in and out of favour. But this slouchy, oversized silhouette isn't just exciting because it's on trend, it is inclusive, subversive, and just plain cool.

Romeo Trevor, an artist and member of the Buruklyn Boyz musical group who grew up in the middle class neighbourhood of Buruburu, remembers a time when everyone, including his uncle, wore oversized clothing. Now, whenever he spots this style, he feels like he is connecting with members of the previous generations.

Trevor says that this style also helps one fit in among his age mates.

“When you attend the Buruklyn Boyz musical concerts, you'll actually see a lot of people wearing Baggy clothes. I have observed that in most of the events I attend, most boys do wear baggy clothes which is something that really motivates us as a group. Personally, I like inspiring people even if it is indirectly, or even if I don’t get to talk to the person. Encouraging them to dress in a particular way and seeing them stand out in a good way makes me feel good.” 

End of skinny jeans era
Skinny jeans, the type of denim pants that fit tightly on the body, especially around the legs, have been popular for many years, but not anymore.

Christine Akinyi is a 21-year-old high fashion and commercial model. She says baggy jeans are more comfortable and breathable than skinny jeans, which can be tight, restrictive and even harmful to the health of the wearer.

“I have been to many street fashion shoots with my baggy side pocket jeans and a huge crop top, and the pictures are always lovely. Baggy jeans are more fashionable and versatile than skinny jeans, which nowadays look boring and  outdated. Baggy jeans can be styled and accessorised in many ways, and can be worn to achieve any look, from casual to professional to elegant. I recently attended a fashion concert where almost everyone showed out in baggy outfits and it turned out amazing. You could tell people felt confident and comfortable in their outfits,” revealed Christine, adding that slouchy jeans can boost confidence and self-esteem as they can hide flaws, create mystery, or convey a sense of power and authority.

Women and the baggy trend
Women are always revered as the movers and shakers of fashion. And now, this species is after comfort and confidence. They seem to acknowledge that tight fitting clothes can be uncomfortable and restrictive, and talk that tight pants can cause nerve compression or muscle damage is now mainstream. Given, many women may feel sexy and confident in tight fitting clothes. 

However, many others feel self-conscious or objectified. This new trend therefore helps women breathe, move, and relax more easily.

Perhaps the resurgence of this trend is related to the post-pandemic era. Dopamine dressing emerged after lockdown, and the idea of finding joy in clothes, regardless of mainstream appeal, came to the fore.

Mercy Priscilla, a model, posing in his slouchy jeans.
Photo credit: Billy Ogada

Styling this trend
Fashionistas encourage the mixing and matching of baggy and well-fitting clothes, where one wears baggy tops with skinny jeans, or baggy pants with crop tops.

Another way is to incorporate different fabrics, colours, and patterns, including denim, leather, wool, or baggy clothes with floral, animal or geometric prints. Overall, this type of clothing can be worn to casual, formal, or sporty events, and for any weather, whether hot, rainy or cold.

But fashion is not just about looking good. It can also reflect one's personality, mood, and preferences. Mercy Pricilla, a 24-year-old model and title holder for Miss Darling Kenya, believes that baggy outfits are here to stay.

“As a model, it is about how you feel. As long as I am comfortable, I am good to go. Baggy outfits come with certain misconceptions and stereotypes. Some think that wearing baggy clothes is a way to hide one’s body or flaws, or that they make one look wider, shapeless, or sloppy, but if you love the trend, you really won’t feel ashamed.

“I would advise everyone to stick to their style. I feel comfortable and confident in loose clothing,” she says.

Mike Spencer, Frank Edroy and K Khalifa run a clothing store in Thika called Urban Flair, and they believe this baggy trend begun with young women’s love for Mom Jeans, and later on, young men bought the idea.

“Over the last three years, we have begun stocking more baggy pants compared to the skinny jeans because there is a higher demand for them,” says Mike.

“Fashion keeps changing. After a while people might get back to the skinny clothes but for now, side pocket baggies are our top selling clothes,” explains Frank.

Baggy Unit Exhibition
Amaru Sahir, 24, is the owner of The Buggy Unit store in Buruburu Phase Four that stocks baggy clothes tailored and designed by Amaru and his partners.

“After Covid, we realised that most young people were trying to emulate Western styles. We made a lot of baggy outfits and I think this influenced most of our peers to try it, and they quickly got immersed into it. This gave us a business idea to start the brand ‘Buggy Unit Exhibition’.

“Since then we have acquired more clients, which has enabled us renovate and redesign our store,” explained Amaru.
Timothy Muholo, 18, is known within his circles as ‘The Baggy Guy.’

“I long embraced that as my fashion style. I am always confident as loose fitting clothes don’t make me look too skinny. I am glad my parents also appreciate this trend,” he says.

Antony Irungu, 20, acknowledges that old is gold, and says that this trend mordernises the fashion styles that dominated the scene in the 80s and 90s.

“Some people talk negatively about my dressing style simply because they feel baggy clothes are outdated, but visit the popular shows and events and you will always find individuals in this attire, and they love it,” he says.

As long as one follows some basic guidelines and respects the laid down norms and rules, the baggy trend can be adapted to fit office and formal settings.

The secret is to balance the proportions, colours and textures of the outfit, and to mix and match pieces that suit one’s personality and style. Incorporating bold colours, patterns and fabrics to the work outfit adds playfulness to the office look, and can elevate the mood around the workplace.