business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Chances are the most you’ve thought about jeans in the past year is when you’ve actually considered them dressing up from sweat pants. But somehow, those very same workhorse-clothing items have become symbolic in an unexpected generational divide between Millennials (born between 1980 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012).

Truth be told, many of us boomers likely don’t draw much of a distinction between the two generational cohorts.  We may have children who we think of as being in the same generation, but who, demographically speaking, are not.  For us, Millennials and Gen Z  are the two young generations at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to workers or shoppers.

But that generalization is a huge mistake.  And the first place you can find the dividing line is in their jeans.

As Gotham recently reported, skinny jeans (something I’m never going to wear) apparently belong to the Millennial crowd, while their younger Gen Z counterparts opt for more comfortable denim pants, whether you call them baggies, mom jeans, dad jeans, or whatever.

The jeans war is a stark reminder that we cannot ever paint with an overly broad brush.  Given that these are two large generational cohorts who are currently or will shortly be everyone’s core consumers, it’s important we understand how they are very different in many ways beyond their jeans.

SalesForce recently did a lengthy outline of those important differences. For example, SaleForce posited that Millennials are far more likely to value customer experiences, while Gen Z is looking for more innovation in products and services and are more cost conscious (likely because they’ve experienced so much economic turmoil in their young lives.  SalesForce described Gen Z as more pragmatic, while Millennials are more idealistic.

Most importantly, while both generations value authenticity, Gen Z takes it to a new and higher level, which if correct should be a warning sign out there to all companies as both marketers and employers. Don’t fake it!

And incredibly, while both generations are savvy at on-line shopping, the younger Gen Zs seem more willing to return to offline shopping once covid is fully tamed. 

Likewise, they exhibit different goals and desires as staffers, which may even more important to know in the current battle to find and keep associates.  Both generational groups want to understand how their employer works for the greater good of society, both expect to be technologically enabled and they want clear and consistent communication from employers. 

But Millennials put a higher priority on job flexibility, while Gen Z looks for stability (again, probably because of all the economic turmoil they have witnessed impacting their families.) Millennials value work-life balance, while Zs are looking for salary and advancement. And while both want feedback, Gen Z wants it straight and unvarnished, while Millennials like a touch of encouragement.

Given the size of both groups (Millennials are the largest cohort in the US, while Gen Z is just slightly smaller than the Baby Boom generation) it behooves companies and managers at all levels to get a clear sense of just who these young people are to better manage and sell to them. 

Here’s a hint: look at their jeans!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.