Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The latest men's fashion looks like the oldest thing

Note from Steve: my friend Wayne must be laughing his ass off about this. He's suddenly "in style" LOL

Clothes are made to look and feel well-worn.

David Colman
the New York Times

That lovable character, Regular Joe, has not had an easy time of it lately. Joe, whose idea of dressing is to pick up a raggedy T-shirt and old cargo pants from the floor where he left them the night before, has become the stereotype for the hapless heterosexual in need of television-mandated spiffing.

But Joe may have the last laugh. The small and growing trend for well-worn men's wear, already rumpled and faded just so, has blossomed into a curious category of refined and often expensive men's clothes. If you hang them up at night, you're missing the point entirely. Expect a visit from the Slob Squad.

The infatuation with vintage clothing is nothing new, of course, having influenced fashion houses for years. Broken-in chinos, cargo pants and dress shirts are an established part of the mix at J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Club Monaco. What is remarkable is how art-house brands such as Mason's, Rogues Gallery, Edun, Wash and Trovata, as well as high-end houses such as Martin Margiela, Cloak and Comme des Garcons, have taken the look to a rarefied level.

Not content to make nominal concessions to weathering, designers are putting major muscle behind fabric development to produce pieces that are veritable clones of garments past, right down to the achingly soft hand, or feel, of the fabric, quirky, old-fashioned details such as hand-stitching and a subtly distressed look.

Emphasis, please, on subtly. Although these clothes may seem the perfect complement for the cartoonishly aged denim that is now ubiquitous in the retail landscape, they are meant to suggest the effects of time's gentle erosion, rather than the efforts of a do-it-yourself-crazed hobbyist.

The result should appear un-self-conscious, as if you dressed without thinking, or even showering. That these clothes cost more than basic basics -- Mason's khakis and cargos, which have acquired almost a cult following, can run as high as $300 -- could be deemed justifiable if you consider what you gain by not stressing over whether you look too done.

''Don't you always notice the guy in the cashmere V-neck with the mysterious little holes at the neck?" asks Tom Kalenderian, the general merchandising manager for men's fashion at Barneys New York. ''You wonder: 'How did he get it that perfect? Was it his father's?' There's definitely a science to making yourself look nonchalant."

Looking old takes work

And what a science it is. The look, right down to frayed collars and hems, strategically sanded patches and little wear holes (effected with a power drill), was first perfected by costume designers and stylists who age clothes for films. It was popularized by those same agers working on fashion shoots to make models, actors and rockers look as if they were wearing shirts and jeans they had owned since high school.

But as cavalier and cool as the finished goods look, they can take more work to produce than a ripstop nylon anorak that wicks away moisture.

David Mullen, whose new line is aptly named Wash, took a 20-year-old pair of Levi's corduroy jeans to an Italian mill to replicate their soft, worn-in feel. Even after production, the finished pants are washed for four hours and discreetly hand-sanded. With a lower rise and a more modern cut than Levi's cords, the soft Wash cords and shirts appeal not just to the eye but also to the hand groping blindly in the dresser for something to wear.

Alex Carleton, the designer of the Rogues Gallery line of limited-edition T-shirts, with faded colors and 19th-century seafaring motifs, puts fabrics through an arduous process of dyeing, washing and drying, even judiciously adding tiny holes with a knitting needle: all that for an old T-shirt.

But then, a great old T-shirt is one of modern man's most beloved garments. And it has sex appeal as well.

''Men have become overgroomed and stylized,'' he says. ''There's a certain bravado with old clothes. There's a physicality to them that, outside of the gym, exists less and less in men's world."

So please, no matter how much you love them, don't send them to the dry cleaner.

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