Too slender for his gender

Men cross over to women's clothing to get a better, more fashionable fit

July 13, 2003|By Michael Quintanilla | Michael Quintanilla,Special to the Sun

For the longest time, John Gregory had a denim dilemma. Gregory favors ultra-low-slung, dangerously tight, rock-glam jeans, but most men's brands are just too baggy or look too blah for the self-described "skinny dude."

So at the suggestion of his wife, Brandie, the 32-year-old musician tried on a pair of women's jeans. He now regularly dons women's size-12 denims because, he says, such brands as Seven and Lucky work wonders on his lanky 6-foot physique.

"Not all of us guys have big bulging thighs and a big butt," the Los Angeles resident says. "Sometimes we need all the help we can get."

For the more adventurous modern man of style, a stroll past lingerie, capri pants and halter tops to the women's jeans section just might be the ticket to a slimmer fit through the hips and thighs, thanks in part to stretchy Lycra fibers blended into the denim. That and an itsy-bitsy 3- to 5-inch rise -- the length from the top of the waistband to the joint seam in the crotch -- as opposed to the more modest men's version with a 10-inch rise.

There's a comfort factor involved in that the shorter rise drops the waistband so it doesn't cut into a man's stomach. But mostly it's about the look. Paired with a boxy T-shirt, women's low-rise jeans let the guys show off a little flash of flesh, just like the girls.

So are men getting in touch with their feminine sides?

"The dividing line between the genders is blurring," says Lynne Luciano, author of Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America (Hill & Wang). Luciano, a history professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, says that because the stigma of male vanity isn't as intense as it used to be, "men are intent on looking young and good. And wearing tight jeans is always the way of being associated with youth, vigor and sex appeal, even if it means wearing ladies' jeans."

But to carry off the look takes a certain attitude and confidence, says David Wolfe, menswear expert and creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York fashion-trend consulting firm. "I think you stand differently, you walk differently when you wear low-rise," says Wolfe, who steps out in low-rise jeans himself. "But when a guy wears a woman's low-rise, you swagger in that Old West kind of way because most women's low-rise jeans are really made for a young girl, and young girls have no hips, which is why they fit a man's body perfectly."

Men who wear women's jeans -- and, retailers say, their numbers are growing in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami -- exemplify another trend that has been building: the feminization of menswear. During the past few seasons, menswear has embraced feminine touches, becoming more casual and tighter, with softer silhouettes, colors and fabrics, even more revealing.

Earlier this year, some vanguard designers showing their autumn-winter collections went so far as to put male models in pleated skirts, knee-high socks and leggings. One even wore a bra to fill out a tight turtleneck. There's also a line of tights for men from the Wolford hosiery makers being marketed as "waist socks."

And men's skivvies have gone drastically south; some versions are being designed as much as 3 inches lower on the waist to fit the latest hip-hugging men's jeans. From Jockey to Joe Boxer to 2(x)ist, many of the newer underwear styles are as compact as a woman's thong.

Tony Maura, 20, is a convert, in a big way: "I don't own one single pair of men's jeans." The 6-foot-tall, 150-pound assistant manager for an Aveda skin care boutique in San Diego has quite a collection of women's labels (Seven, Habitual, Paper Denim & Cloth and Miss Sixty). "They're way more flattering," he says. He's even persuaded "at least 20" of his friends "to make the switch," he brags.

Gregory, who is recording an album for Atlantic Records, also isn't shy about his affinity for women's jeans. He's talked up the idea to a few pals, including his drummer, "who's getting hip to it. My friends will comment about my jeans, and I'll go, 'Dude, they're girls' jeans. Check it out,' " he says, quickly adding that he also wears several men's brands.

Michael Quintanilla is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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