Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 13 News List

For menswear, think pencil-thin

By Christopher Muther  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BOSTON

The suits that came down the runway at Gucci's Milan show two weeks ago featured jackets in exquisite, brocade-like fabrics and pants with a crisp crease running from waist to ankle. But there was also something incredibly familiar about the look, specifically that of a 15-year-old trying to squeeze into a suit he last wore for elementary school graduation.

Perhaps a consortium of budget-conscious mothers finally persuaded the top men's designers that tight and tiny is in, thus ensuring that their sons will whine less when they are buttoned into last year's bar mitzvah suit (“You look just like a Prada model, Davy!”). More likely, however, the trend of slim-fitting pants and skinny jackets emanates from the increased focus on the male form, heightened by the fact that those who are wrapped in the image-conscious world of fashion are the same people who are logging additional squat time at the gym.

“Are you fit? Are you going to the gym?” asks British designer Ozwald Boateng, whose spring/summer 2007 line for Givenchy menswear featured snug shirts and trousers. “Yes? Then you have nothing to worry about. There's no question that there's been a boom in men being more aware of how they look. There's more pressure to be fit and beautiful. It's almost like men are getting the same pressure that women have been getting for many, many years.”

The cut of Boateng's suits, which have been worn by Jamie Foxx, Jude Law, and Keanu Reeves and are currently gaining notoriety on a Sundance channel documentary, recalls the Brit-pop mod look of the 1960s and its early 1980s, skinny tie-loving revival (sans shoulder pads and accordion-pleat pants). Once the sole domain of the undernourished boy-men of the indie rock world, the skinny silhouette has made the leap from scuzzy clubs to Cameron Diaz's boy toy. Justin Timberlake models a slim-cut Dior Homme suit by Hedi Slimane on the cover of his new single and forthcoming album.

“A body-conscious look is just more flattering,” Boateng says. “If there's no shape to your clothes, your body is also going to look shapeless.”

It is impossible to expect that every Joe Six Pack (as in beer, not abs) is capable of wearing a Boateng or Dior suit cut for a rakish, Orlando Bloom-like physique, especially given the ever-present statistics that find the American male is getting wider, not narrower. But the slim silhouette from the runway is making more subtle inroads into the closet than the man-leggings on the runway last week may suggest.

“It's not necessarily about men's clothes being tight,” says Chris Manly, president of the men's division of Theory. “It's about a sleeker silhouette. A lot of my friends don't believe me, but it's more comfortable to wear a suit that fits than a suit that's baggy.”

In the case of Theory, a company that makes suits that straddle the line between Kenneth Cole and Prada, the way to show off the new, improved male body is to raise the arm holes in suit jackets and lower the waistline so pants don't ride as high on the hips. This makes the torso look longer and adds height, plus it's intended to show off washboard abs.

“The younger guys who work out want to show off the results,” says Manly. “And there are ways to do that without resorting to Spandex.”

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