Dressing with a bit of a sneer

June 17, 1992|By New York Times News Service

In the maelstrom of urban style, toughness counts. You don't have to live in South Central Los Angeles to feel that the outside world is treacherous and the environment deadly -- that to look bad is good.

Men are rolling up their T-shirts, cutting the sleeves off their Levi's jackets, putting on construction boots and wearing their pants or shorts slung low on the hips.

Michael Jackson doesn't seem like a very tough guy. But for his new video with the model Naomi Campbell, the fawn-like singer wears a T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves, jeans and slick-looking boots.

Luke Perry, the heart-throb actor in the hit television series "Beverly Hills 90210," is on the cover of the July Vanity Fair looking like one mean hombre: shirtless, in muddied jeans and chaps, cowboy boots and spurs.

He dangles a revolver along a pant leg, a metaphor for you know what. Hair-trigger tough, killer sexy. But sensitive, you know.

Tough style is an amalgam of several styles: Western, biker, blue-collar, rap and surfer. There is a Spanky McFarland "Our Gang" element in the rap or hip-hop style, with its exaggerated sloppiness, backward hats and goofy riffs on the mainstream.

As the predominant form of inner-city defensive fashion, it has affected all the others, even its seeming antithesis, the California beach-boy look.

In downtown New York, it seems everybody's gone surfing, but not surfing U.S.A. Updated surf style -- shorts that hang below the knee, striped T-shirts, hooded jackets -- is extremely popular with young men. But the all-American, clean-cut blond surfer type seems to be a thing of the past.

Today's urban surfer has tattooed arms, ear jewelry, bizarre buzz-cut hair and droopy, ripped-up clothes.

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