Friday, February 03, 2006

Baggy be gone

New styles ride lower, borrowing from women's look

By Erin White

TUSCON, Ariz. - After years of suffering stolen T-shirts and pilfered boxing shorts, men are taking some revenge. They're stealing their girlfriend's jeans.

Figuratively, anyway.

Men's jeans are borrowing from more fashionable and flattering women's looks.

Designs that ride lower on the hips, bluer washes, stylized stitching and strategically placed distressing are popping up in small doses.

The new style rejects baggy silhouettes, fitting slimmer through the thighs and around the knee and sometimes flaring slightly near the ankle.

Steve Simpson, who works at Guess Inc. in the Tucson Mall, recently bought a pair for himself.

The first time he wore them, a twinge of indecision set in.

"I find myself lifting my jeans up in the back like a girl would, and I'm like, 'What the hell am I doing?' "

Then, he wore them when he went out and discovered people — OK, women — found them smokin' hot.

"I got more compliments from the ladies," he says. "They're really flattering on your butt. Who's not going to want to wear that?"

He knows he's in the minority. Only about 5 to 10 percent of men are buying the slimmer fits, be they in the men's or women's section, industry experts estimate.

The flip-flop started because women's jeans had the extra touches — nice stitching or a better wash, for example — that male customers couldn't find in men's jeans, says Ted Greve, owner of Sunset Canyon in La Encantada.

Eventually, manufacturers caught on and started adding new styles for men that mirrored features previously confined to women's jeans.

The change in men's jeans reflects the blurring between what is men's and what is women's, says Marcia Klipsch, assistant director of the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing at the University of Arizona.

A more accurate description, she says, is "fashion-forward," or stylish — not girly.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a man who will say they're looking for something that is for women," Greve says. "They'll say they want something cool or hip or stylish."

The skinny cuts for men don't look like only a woman would wear them. There are no lace or sparkles or heart-shaped patches. They just look similar to a straight-up pair of girls jeans.

Two popular styles sold at Lucky Brand Jeans in La Encantada have nearly the same descriptions. The nashville slim for men "sits just above the hip" and is "slim through the thigh" with a "20-inch leg opening," according to descriptors on the brand's Web site. The dream/sweet dream for women "sits just above the hip" and is "slim through the thigh" with a "20-inch leg opening."

In the store, piles of jeans, situated between the men's and the women's sections, don't target either sex. Even the sizing — strictly by waist and inseam — doesn't give any clues.

These jeans float in the unisex middle ground of trendy, designer styles.

Klipsch's husband, Dick, read a story in the Wall Street Journal about modern men's jeans and went in search of Diesel denim.

Surprising his wife, the 72-year-old ended up buying two pairs. The move, he says, is out of character as he doesn't follow fashion and his wife and three daughters buy nearly all of his clothes.

"I had observed the low-cut jeans on females, obviously. You'd be nuts if you didn't," he says. "But I'd never heard of them for men."

The jeans he bought sit a few inches below his belly button and fit tightly around his hips and thighs.

"I like the way I look. I look like I have a longer waist, and people say that I don't look like I'm 72 years old."

He finds the new style so young-looking and flattering, he's sworn off his old jeans, barring a dramatic shift in style.

Katrina Szich, style director for US Weekly, says, "Men do need to update. Many men out there in Middle America are still stuck wearing jeans that are way too high, way too light and pegged around the ankle."

Trying a new style can mean a better fit, Szich says.

But leave the pocket designs and fancy bleaches to women, she says, warning men about taking too many cues from their girlfriends.

"Personal style on men shouldn't be fussy," she said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "There's nothing less sexy than to be contrived."

She points to stars such as Matthew McConaughey and Chris Martin, who have style and sex appeal without obvious boutique shopping.

Klipsch's wife doesn't care if he steals a look originally meant for her.

"He's got the body to do it," she says. "I'm all for it."

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