Bagging the baggy for a slimmer look

April 16, 2007|By Tanika White | Tanika White,sun reporter

On a sunny afternoon at Lexington Market recently, Travis Johnson strolled through wearing a green T-shirt emblazoned with "DC," for DC Shoes, a popular skater brand that is up and coming in the urban sector.

The Frederick Douglass High School senior bought his shirt - a size medium - from PacSun, a mall-based apparel chain that specializes in surf and skate merchandise.

His fashion choice is notable for two reasons: Johnson, 18, doesn't own a skateboard, and it wasn't too long ago that he wouldn't dare be caught on the street in a shirt that was sized any smaller than extra-large.

"I think all the baggy clothes are just not all that no more," Johnson says.

Quite a statement, considering that for more than a decade urban fashion could generally be described with one word: oversized.

These days, urban fashion is slimming down. The change has come in part because hip-hop stars - who often set the tone for fashion on the streets - are getting older. And also because of the crossover appeal of skateboarders, whose slender street styles always have been antithetical to that of their XXXL hip-hop counterparts.

"You've got Usher with his blazer, Jay-Z with his suits. So the younger kids are seeing a new style come in. And since the younger kids are influenced by older people, well, they're going to slim down too," says Kionna Coleman, senior editor at MR (Menswear Retailing), a trade publication based in New York that has written about the changes in the urban silhouette.

Merchandisers and retailers are calling the blend of skate sensibilities and urban wear "skurban" - with jeans and pants cut slimmer and tighter around the natural waistline, tops being worn true to size, and even some sneakers becoming more streamlined, more colorful and less basketball-bulky.

The look is still a little loose, just not as ultra-baggy as before.

"Customers are buying their clothes in a more true size," says Antonio Gray, apparel buyer for the region's DTLR (formerly Downtown Locker Room) stores. "So if they were in the past an extra large, they may have bought a 2x or 3x, because they wanted to exaggerate a look. But now they're wearing an extra large. By urban standards that's wearing your clothes smaller, but by other standards, it would be normal. This goes for pants too." The true-to-size looks are more evolution than revolution, experts say.

"The hip-hop community continues to evolve, and I think that what people once thought of as being, almost iconoclastically, from the hip-hop community has evolved also," says Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of the menswear design department at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "So where you had ... big oversized buckles, the boxer shorts down beyond the butt cheeks, and oversized, well, really unsized garments ... that's changed because this customer has grown up."

Blackman likened the marriage of street fashion and skate fashion to an earlier music melding: that of 1960s rock 'n' roll and Motown into 1970s disco. Rock 'n' rollers had a look and feel different from that of Motown-listeners. But each genre pulled bits and pieces from the other to make disco, which had a more universal appeal.

"I don't think the kids perceive this [new look of hip-hop] as borrowing from another culture; they feel they own it," says Blackman. "Kids who grew up in Danbury, Conn., don't feel that this is not their music. They feel they own it. They feel they're a part of it. And I think hip-hop is no different."

This street trend toward true-fit clothing has been seen for several years on high-fashion runways in Europe and New York, experts say.

"It's really a trickle down effect," says James Hurley, managing director and senior research analyst for Telsey Advisory Group, a New York independent equity research firm focused on the retail and consumer sector. "We've seen the most aspirational, high-end brands, they've been promoting a slimmer silhouette for a couple of years now."

But it's only just now that the look is taking a real foothold on the streets.

"Back then, if you wore a small shirt," says Donald Terry Jr., a senior at Morgan State University, "they'd say, 'Yo, artsy!' Or 'Yo, smedium!'" (An insulting blend of small and medium.)

To avoid the teasing, Terry, 24, once clad himself in "baggy jeans with a big white T, with Timberland boots and a jersey," he says. But Terry is now, and always has been, more comfortable in closer-fitting jeans, colorful skater-inspired sneakers and a polo-style shirt - size small.

His fashion sense looks similar in many ways to several hip-hop stars, such as Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco, who are themselves fans of skateboarding and skate styles, and also more traditional rappers such as Lil' Wayne and Dipset co-founder Jim Jones.

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