The mature males we know were dragged kicking and resisting into pleated pants and unconstructed jackets. They whined and scoffed, holding on to their flat-front khakis and narrow blazers for dear life. Most of them were forced to loosen up finally when even conservative retailers turned the fashion corner.
Now these same men are getting comfortable with their new look. Even the few uptight holdouts have learned to relax in their weekend baggies. Poor dears. Just when they are beginning to feel cool, stylish and expansive, the fashion world is getting narrow-minded.
There's fashion trauma in store. Tight and narrow pants are back. We're talking flat front, skin-tight. We're seeing leggings and bodysuits.
"Tightness is probably five years away in the mainstream market, but it has been validated by the American collections. The high end has capitalized on stretch and knit, and skinny inspired clothes are moving to acceptance," says Tom Julian, fashion director for the Men's Fashion Association.
"In the last six months the trades have reported on a body-conscious move in sportswear as a result of the strong knit business."
That is a trade appraisal, not merely a futuristic fantasy created for shock value by designers. Tightness is about to step off the runways and into the street.
Top designers are on to the straight and narrow. Donna Karan has knit stirrup pants, Isaac Mizrahi makes a bodysuit, Jean Paul Gaultier has proposed men's leggings, Dolce & Gabbana like skintight knits, Andrew Fezza has stretch pants and huggy zipper tops and Gianni Versace's jeans are as tight and snug as it gets.
It will take men some time to adjust. Women squirmed when designers first introduced stretch pants and cat suits, but now tights and stirrup pants have become basic to any woman's wardrobe.
"Menswear is probably a couple of years behind women's trends, but it moves much quicker than it used to," says award-winning designer Bill Robinson.
"The tightness we're seeing is trickling from the MTV fun stuff, and most businessmen are not going to jump yet."
Yet he predicts tight times. "The economy has spawned an anti-fashion feeling, there is a leanness, a nervous pulling in. Things are not so voluptuous anymore. Long, sweeping coats will be giving way to a shorter early '60s proportion. In the business sector, suits are still big but more narrow and contained."
The Robinson name was among the first to be linked with a flat, slim line and he continues the direction in his fall '92 menswear collection by narrowing in on knits and pared-down shapes.
He sees the more explicit moves to body-conscious dressing on young people. "On the street they're accomplishing the sleek silhouette with jeans and more mundane pieces. That lean, urban look is very appealing in a tough way. And the kids have it tough. They have to be concerned about safe sex, they have to behave, so their clothes have become an outward expression of their sensuality."
Body-dressing is also gaining strength from the pursuit of physical fitness that has driven men to the weight room for the past two decades. Fitness fashion started out with a handball and basic gym shorts and has built up to the Boston Marathon and silver Lycra leggings.
The first man to squeeze his buns into running tights was a fashion pace-setter. He was, early on, the object of derision and hoots from passing motorists. He is now the brave new role model.
Designer Marcus Ergas, whose clothes are available locally at Saeno, has had great success with clothes that celebrate the body. "As men explore fashion in more depth, I am able to push the boundaries of what's acceptable even further," says Mr. Ergas, who has introduced men's body stockings for fall '92. "Men have begun to recognize that sexy clothes can be very appealing. They are paying more attention."
That leaves legions of men who haven't paid much attention to their stomach muscles or their closet. Is there a sexy look in their future?
"We have to be realistic, bodies come in different sizes and a fuller pant looks more fashionable with pleats," Mr. Ergas says, "but sexiness is not made by clothes. Feeling terrific and attractive is sexy, not whether the garment is tight or see-through.
"I do see more narrowing. I'm thinking to my next collection and would like to see one-piece dressing evolve -- something as simple as a worker's overall cut a little trimmer with refined details, not merely a unitard."
Unitards may become as familiar as underwear in the average man's vocabulary. Calvin Klein's stretch tank suits, which look like old-fashioned one-piece underwear, are going out club-hopping in L.A.
The young are comfortable with the idea of bodysuits. After all, they grew up with Superman, Spiderman and Saturday morning super-heroes who wear leotards to do battle with the forces of evil. There just may be a powerful lot of stretch Lycra in the future of men's fashion.