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Health, Beauty & Fashion

A fitting look for today's guy

Men's trousers are shorter, tighter and here to stay
The Straits Times - June 27, 2014
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A fitting look for today's guy Slim-fitting creations by Tom Ford (above) and Dior Homme. -- PHOTO: TOM FORD

This is the era of the ever-shrinking men's trousers - they are tailored and shorter, tighter and shrunken, as well as too tight and too short. The look of menswear changes at a snail's pace and, sometimes, it takes years before a not-at-all outlandish idea trickles from the runways - which are now hosting the spring 2015 collections - to the mass market.

However, when a fashion idea finally reaches the vast middle ground, it tends to stay a while, putting down roots in the menswear landscape. Thus, people are deep in fashion's equivalent of an old-growth forest - surrounded by men in aggressively tailored pants.

The ubiquity of this trend, even in offices far away from the expected crucibles of creativity, had an executive at a Maryland real-estate development firm recently marvelling, with some chagrin, that the men in her office were given to wearing particularly close-fitting trousers, which she described as "tight".

While that is a judgment call, it is true that the cut of men's pants - the more fashionable cut, that is -

has gotten snugger, much snugger than what it was back when Giorgio Armani's loose Italian tailoring defined power and former United States president Bill Clinton was wearing roomy Donna Karan suits.

The modern suit - from Saint Laurent to J.Crew - now comes with narrow, flat-front trousers, falling straight without a break, sometimes cropped enough to reveal more than a smidgen of bare ankle. The jacket is single-breasted with a notched lapel. The proportions are particularly noticeable on red carpet celebrities whose suits and tuxedos tend to be custom-tailored to the last millimetre, particularly if that suit is by designer Tom Ford and is worn by celebrities the likes of Justin Timberlake, Colin Firth and Bradley Cooper.

Cooper, by the way, caused a media fuss when he wore distractingly tight tuxedo pants to a White House state dinner. His self-described "crazy-town tight" trousers, he later explained, resulted from having packed on the kilogrammes for a film role. His was a fashion faux pas, not a fashion statement. "A slim-fitting suit should skim the body, not hug it. It's not intended to be a wetsuit," warns fashion expert Tim Gunn. On the average man, the popular cut - done right - could most accurately be described as lean. The preference for this style crosses ethnicities and economics. It is embraced by 20-somethings, as well as men in their 50s. However, trim trousers have little mercy for beer bellies or love handles.

"I started to get in shape in 2005 and the cut basically suited my frame," says Mr Matt Martinez, senior producer of NPR's All Things Considered, as he explains his journey to the narrow silhouette.

"I went shopping and I was looking at the same kind of clothes which I used to buy and they were balloony. I went looking for clothes which fit better. It was hard to find fitted clothes back then unless it was something bespoke."

Mr Martinez, 38, a fashion aficionado, but also a frugal man, was ahead of the mainstream market and he was not looking in the expensive designer realm.

Had he wandered into the land of the US$3,000 (S$3,800) suits, he would have found that Ford was one of the lead instigators in the tight-tailoring movement during his time at Gucci in the early 2000s. Now, designing under his own name, he has little tolerance for surplus fabric.

Designer Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme also popularised razor-sharp cuts which could be worn only by men whose natural metabolism roared like an inferno or those who simply did not believe in eating food.

Designer Miuccia Prada pushed the trend along with her fondness for boyish models who were so wispy, they looked as though they could not bench press a sparrow.

Designer Thom Browne chopped his Ivy League slacks at the ankle, further decreasing the amount of fabric dedicated to the average pair of trousers.

Finally, the widespread popularity of skinny jeans meant that a host of young men were accustomed to pants which looked a lot like a pair of jeggings.

"I made the switch probably seven or eight years ago," explains real-estate agent Gregg Zeiler, 52. "I started with Ralph Lauren - with his Black Label line. He made a flat-front pair of pants which sat on the hips, not at the waist." There was no fighting it. There was no point. Close-fitting pants were everywhere and, generally, they looked good.

"I think no matter what, a guy will always look good in tapered pants," says stylist and GQ contributing editor Brian Coats. "But they shouldn't be so tight that everyone is looking at your jewels."

Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, has mocked such shrink-wrapped packaging, most recently with a tight pants smackdown featuring Jennifer Lopez. "Everybody's talking about my tight pants," Fallon chirped, as he gyrated in tiny white jeans. "Everybody's looking at my tight pants." Fallon's joke, however, was accompanied by a knowing nod and no small amount of fashion savvy. Coats, who works as Fallon's stylist, says Fallon "likes things pretty fitted". "He's super into looking fit and cool and slim. And he realises a slim-fit will do that."

In The Tonight Show opening credits, for instance, Fallon is running through the streets of New York City in a navy suit by Saint Laurent, where Slimane is now creative director.

"He's super into fashion, but he doesn't want to look like it," Coats says of Fallon. In that way, Fallon is like a lot of men. They do not want to look like they are trying too hard.

"I try to look effortless," confirms Mr Zeiler. The slim-suit is a perfect trend, especially for Washington. It's a way to signify stylishness without a lot of bells and whistles.

Men's attitudes have changed as well, says Memsor Kamarake, stylist and former fashion director of Vibe magazine. Machismo is no longer about puffing oneself up and taking up as much physical space as possible. At one point, models with 29-inch waists used to ask for 36-inch pants for Vibe photo shoots. In 2007, even male models sneered at leggings, Kamarake says.

For most men, it takes some time to get comfortable with the narrower silhouette, for their eyes to adjust. Some guys continue to struggle with it.

Coats will sometimes style athletes for GQ - average Joe types, not the fashion cognoscenti, such as Tyson Chandler and Dwyane Wade - and outfit them in slim-cut jeans. A hovering manager will ring an alarm: "You're wearing skinny jeans."

However, for a lot of men, any silhouette which is on speaking terms with their body is synonymous with one that is tight.

As the mass market has embraced the leaner silhouette, uncomfortable extremes and bad ideas have come to the fore.

For example, there are those who go too far: Men who want their trousers taken in to the last binding inch or those who want a suit jacket with a waistline which fits like a corset.

Under the category of bad ideas, Kamarake says: "There's that weird hybrid which happened. A slim pair of jeans which sometimes sags and you get this waddle as you walk."

Mostly, though, slim has been good. It has flattered the average man's physique. However, now that this aerodynamic silhouette has been popularised, menswear is moving on.

The runways in Europe have been proselytising the merits of a boxier, looser fit. It is roomier through the thigh with a tapered leg and a cropped hem. Sometimes, it is practically ninja-like.

Outside niche markets, loose remains a tough sell. "I think slim is just more flattering," Mr Martinez says. "I see double-breasted on the runway too and it gives me shivers in a bad, bad way. I don't like the boxy look. I can't see myself moving in that direction."

Well, at least not now. Menswear moves slowly, but like the rest of fashion, it does eventually move.

"It'll change again and everyone will be wearing palazzo pants," says Mr Simon Doonan, creative ambassador of Barneys New York.

"And then we'll be longing for the days of tight pants."


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