Girly-Men’s Clothes Burst Seams as Guys Show Off Butts and Pecs

Take your boyfriend on a shopping jaunt along Fifth Avenue,

and here are some of the things you might find him wiggling into: slim

“stretch” tan slacks, 98 percent cotton and 2 percent spandex, $68 at Banana

Republic on 50th Street; a port-wine pique shirt, short-sleeved and very tight,

$48 at Armani Exchange on 51st; or, if he’s feeling particularly sportif , black swim trunks with a

three-inch rise and little mesh undies underneath, $19 at H&M on 51st.

“Nobody wants to wear anything big. That baggy phase is over ,” said Anna Corbi, a sales

associate at Armani Exchange. Her male customers, she said, will “purposely buy

a shirt a size smaller, just so it’s tight. I’ll tell people, ‘That looks

perfect on you!’ And they’ll say, ‘It’s not tight enough. ‘”

In the 1980′s, men hunkered down under shoulder pads and

boxy pinstripes; in the 90′s, they swathed themselves in layers of Armani, baggy

chinos and flapping flannel shirts. But the new-millennium man is not quite so

modest: His collarbone emerges from an abbreviated V-neck sweater, his midriff

asserts itself under a little T-shirt shot through with Lycra, and his ankles

peek out unabashedly from beneath clamdigger pants. Men’s clothes are getting

tighter, and it’s making some people uncomfortable.

New York University communications technology student John

Lichtenstein, 27, felt betrayed after a recent excursion to one of his old

standbys: “Banana Republic used to be kind of casual stuff; now it seems like

it’s geared toward gay men,” he said, snacking on brie and crackers at a

Quiogue mansion with some of his heterosexual chums recently. “I liked the

shirts, but they were ridiculously tight. All the larges felt like smalls. And

I’m not fat!”

“We definitely have a lot of fitted T’s,” said Trisha

Nozier, a sales associate at Banana Republic. “It would be for that sexy look …

to show off the muscle or their figure. Stretch cotton with Lycra-you want it,

we got it.”

While Mr. Lichtenstein might not want it, plenty of other

fellows-straight, gay and undecided-emphatically do.

Shawn Kolodny, 29, owner of the Upper West Side nightclubs

Cream and Venue, recently dropped $400 on tight pink-and-blue plaid pants at

Paul Smith. “They look really good on,” he said. “I like a lot of the stretchy

stuff. It moves around better and makes my trips to the gym seem worthwhile.”

John von Sothen, 31, who is a writer working as a

cater-waiter for Restaurant Associates, got into tight clothes through his

French girlfriend of two years, but only recently started seeing the type of

things he likes in the States. An ectomorphic 5-foot-9, he sees snug togs as

the best possible recourse for the skinny guy. He just splurged on a briefly

cut bathing suit at A.P.C. for $80. He mocked men who feel the need to declare

their heterosexuality with suburban-dad baggy trunks. “I’m the guy who’s

getting sand kicked in his face at the beach,” he said proudly. Mr. Von Sothen

gets hit on by men, which he regards as a badge of sartorial honor. “It’s kind

of like justification that I’m doing anything! Gay guys get away with all the

good stuff,” he said.

Nathan Johnson, a 25-year-old gay actor who appreciates

H&M’s smaller European sizing, took the next step: buying a child’s-size

T-shirt at a vintage-clothing store (something women have been doing since the

dawn of Gap Kids). “I’m proud of my body shape, and I like to show it,” he

said.

Michael James, a lean, angular, 20-year-old sometime

construction worker who came to the city to try modeling with Earnest

Management, was at the bar at Man Ray 

last week, sporting a tight navy crewneck T-shirt with sleeves

strategically lopped off just above the biceps, tapered American Eagle jeans

and black suede Vans.

“I’m from Ohio, and we’re used to very baggy clothes,” said

Mr. James. “When I came to New York, I started seeing guys who wear clothes

that fit. At home, it would never apply. They’d say, ‘Oh, you’re trying to show

off.’ At home, everyone is fat. People here are in such better shape.” Later, a

23-year-old woman climbed into his lap. Mr. James left with her shortly

thereafter.

At Lotus, the past-its-prime nightclub in the meatpacking

district, Clay Bernabeo, a 23-year-old trader, was enjoying similar success in

his maroon Banana Republic stretch pants and somewhat translucent,

short-sleeved button-down shirt from H&M. As he spoke, he was occasionally

pawed by a tall blond woman with an exposed midriff. “She picked it,” said Mr.

Bernabeo of his shirt, nodding toward the woman. “She thought it looked good on

me because she thought it looked tight. [But] it looks good on me because I’ve

got a good body! People may think I’m a h-h-homosexual,” he added, stuttering

slightly over the word, “but it doesn’t matter, because it looks good.”

Nearby, another trader, 25-year-old Dan Kaufman, was packed

like a sausage into a ribbed, slate-colored nylon crewneck from Armani

Exchange. “My girlfriend made me buy it,” he said. “She liked the way it

looked. She liked my body.”

While some men foist

responsibility for their sleek, muscle-baring new outfits on their girlfriends,

others stumble upon them solo.

Like many Manhattan males of a certain tax bracket,

24-year-old business reporter Andrew (6-foot-3, 175 pounds), who was

embarrassed to give his last name, is partial to Calvin Klein’s cotton

T-shirts. Recently, wanting to explore the Ricky Martin silhouette, he

downsized from a large to a medium.

“I tried on the large, and I felt like I was swimming in this shirt,” he said. “I

used to swim in shirts, and it was fine. It’s not exactly like I have muscles

to be showing the world, but I want it to be more fitted.”

Adam Rapoport, a lanky senior editor at GQ , used to reach for a large, but this summer he tried on a cream-colored

button-down Daryl K shirt in a medium by accident and liked what he saw. “It’s

a kind of slimmer, more British style-an Oasis look,” he said. “I liked the

fit: more rock, more sporty. If it was loose and baggy, this shirt would look

like something I bought at L.L. Bean.”

Glenn O’Brien, who writes

the “Style Guy” column for GQ , is on

top of the trend. “Armani has had a big run, but I think things have gone the

other way. Men get tired of all those big, baggy trousers with all the pleats,”

he said from a cab on the way home from Pilates class one morning. “And now

guys are wearing more structured clothes-you know, trimmer pants and just a

sleeker look. With stretch fabrics, you can buy a suit that’s a little thinner

than one might have been 20 years ago and you’re not gonna bust out the ass.”

It’s not like men have never worn tight clothes; some still

shudder recalling the 1960′s, the heyday of the “ha-ha” (high-armhole,

high-ass) suit; and the 70′s and early 80′s, when “progressive” men into glam

and punk rock donned sperm-count-lowering trousers. There is a difference,

however: Back then, the men were skinny; now they’re beefing themselves up at

the gym. Then, men were discovering their feminine side; now, they’re

reaffirming their masculinity, showing off their trainer-built physique.

“I can only suggest it is certainly the second generation of

the influence of the gym in men’s life,” said the writer and noted spiffy

dresser Gay Talese. “Staying in shape, being fit, spending hours on machines and

aerobics has manifested a male vanity or narcissism that has to be reflected in

the fashion of the moment.”

The blame for the latest wave of tight clothes may be placed

squarely on the narrow shoulders of three high-end designers: Miuccia Prada, an

enthusiastic proponent of high-tech fabrics and the wan, intellectual,

androgynous look; Tom Ford of Gucci (and now Yves Saint Laurent), who makes sex

the centerpiece of his collections; and more recently, Hedi Slimane of Dior

(who first debuted the look at Yves Saint Laurent), a mysterious Frenchman

whose men’s clothes are cut so narrowly that women like Bianca Jagger have been

spotted buying them for themselves. Their clothes have encased the likes of

Brad Pitt (who got married in a Y.S.L. tux), Mark Wahlberg and Tom Cruise, who

have worn their share of shiny little suits and baby V-necks.

“A lot of men in the U.S. are too broad-shouldered to really

fit into that stuff,” said Justin, 29, a banker and tight-clothes enthusiast

who didn’t want to give his last name. “Theory does a good job of being

form-fitted but not too Euro.” Justin has shopped at Gucci and Marc Jacobs, and

recently a Barneys salesman

convinced him to buy brown-and-white Miu Miu bathing trunks so small they

looked like underwear. “He said it was very 1950′s,” said Justin.

Michael Smaldone, vice president of men’s design at Banana

Republic, said his pants sales have gone from 60 percent pleated and 40 percent

flat-front five years ago to about 80 percent flat-front now; the “Dawson,” a

low-rise cut, is particularly popular. “It’s really all about the rise of the

pant,” he said.

But classic, khaki-centric retailers are more ambivalent

about voyaging into the land of stretch and tapering.

Michael Blue, vice president of men’s design at Brooks

Brothers, said pleated pants are still outselling flat-fronted ones 3 to 1.

“Aesthetically, a plain-fronted pant makes you look slimmer,” he said. “What

we’ve done in our pants is kind of trim them down and make them a little sexier

on the waist. They still sit on your waist, but they kind of dip down in the

front, and it gives you the appearance of having a little bit more modern pant.

It doesn’t look, you know, ‘old man with the 12-inch front rise.’ Basically

what I did is I just kind of took out any fabric that I call ‘dead’ fabric-it’s

not adding anything to the garment, it’s just there. So we’ve taken that out.

The pant has the same expression; it just makes it cleaner .”

Just as women’s hemlines

used to go up and down with seasonal regularity, there are signs that men may

be drifting back toward bagginess. In early July, Club Monaco, which has

translated the runway’s slim-fitted look for the masses, introduced a “Right

Fit” pant with a relaxed, wide-leg silhouette to go alongside its more

contemporary “Smart Fit” pant. The reason, according to a spokesperson, was to

“accommodate a broader male customer base.”

As for all those pec-hugging T-shirts that are being foisted

upon the regular guys of the world, Mr. Blue doesn’t see those going away. “If

you can get [the customer] into a slimmer T-shirt to wear under his dress

shirt, he’ll never go back,” he said.

But men might be forced back into hiding by the reason they

buy clothes in the first place: women. “I like guys who wear their jeans that

fit,” said Allison Teich, a 25-year-old digital-video editor. “But shirts that

are too tight-oh, no! I think tight shirts are a good indication that a guy is

vain and a little too concerned with his appearance. It’s girly.”

– Additional reporting by Benjamin Ryan