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Men’s fashion choices push past gender boundaries

  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Published Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at 12:19 a.m.

— It was a bit hard to tell the difference between men’s and women’s runway presentations at recent fall 2013 fashion shows.

Nautica’s Black Sail collection had its male models in banana-yellow skinny pants rolled at the ankles. Coats with oversize fur collars featured a slight A-line flare.

Designer Patrik Ervell’s presentation included an iridescent, emerald-green cape with a wraparound, cowl-neck collar.

Even Michael Kors – whose manly clothes are typically classic American with a dose of Old World sophistication – dressed a model in a fuzzy, short-sleeve sweater and skinny slacks, while another wore a bright-orange belted trench.

American menswear has officially dipped its pantleg into the expanding androgynous-loving pool of the fashion industry. That means not only will women wrap themselves in their boyfriends’ sweaters, but men may soon be donning “girlfriend” jeans as well – and their sexuality won’t be questioned. Or at least, they will be confident enough not to care.

“It’s all very urban nomad,” Tom Julian, trend-watcher and author of Nordstrom’s Guide to Men’s Everyday Dressing, said while he took a break at New York Fashion Week. The guy who wears these clothes is “one part artist, one part rebel, and he’s also very simplistic; he loves his technology,” Julian said.

Womenswear has been borrowing masculine details since the 1920s, when Coco Chanel essentially created the women’s suit. The look was initially considered taboo, but using men’s fabrics and tailoring in women’s clothes today (see Michelle Obama’s Thom Browne coat at the inauguration) is as accepted as wearing red nail polish.

Yet since men took off their wigs, long stockings and knee breeches around the start of the Industrial Revolution, they’ve been languishing for 200 years or so wearing shirts and trousers in shades of navy, black and gray. Now it seems that younger, heterosexual men are actually following fashion as closely as women. And with more clothing options, they have to replenish their closets to stay in style.

Sales reflect that. As of November, total U.S. menswear sales were up 4.2 percent, to $55.6 billion, from $53.4 billion the year before, according to the market research firm NPD Group.

“The industry is understanding now there is a market for men,” said Michael D. Oxman, image consultant for Philadelphia-based Henry A. Davidsen, a custom-suit retailer. He has seen his fitted-suit sales go up in the past year.

Men “are starting to consume (fashion) at a similar rate as women. That’s just the market at work,” Oxman said.

And at the Grammys recently, many men appeared enamored with dandy details: Drake wore a fitted tux, John Mayer showed up in a shrunken purple velvet blazer, and crooner Ne-Yo was stunning in a metallic jacket and silky cargo pants. (Ne-Yo later performed at Fashion Week at a Prabal Gurung for Target presentation wearing a pink blazer and sequin scarf.)

Slowly but surely, men aren’t letting fashion rules define their clothing choices, let alone their sexuality, said Colin Stark, development director of Details magazine.

“I think the ’90s were all about the masculine form,” said Stark, who was wearing a pair of blue, brown and red Gucci tie-up shoes. “Now men have more options. They are more comfortable and they are pushing the envelope, challenging the norm.”

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