FASHION - Blurring the lines

'Today's guy may choose to dress a lot like today's girl'

By Anne D'Innocenzio

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A guy shopping for a pair of basic jeans this fall might think he's stumbled into the women's department.

Retailers and clothing manufacturers including Levi Strauss &; Co. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. are focusing on a trendier look for young men, including low-rise jeans that hug the hips -- similar to the pants that a year ago became a must-have style for teen girls and young women.


At Limited Inc.'s Express men's division, 25 percent of its men's pants for the back-to-school season will be low-rise styles.

Merchants are hoping that low-rise pants, along with tighter-fitting sweaters, tinted jeans and other looks will help fuel sales in the young men's category, which targets the 18-to-34 age group. The segment has just started to rebound after slumping for more than a year.

One of the interesting twists about these new fashions is that they look more like women's clothes than traditional men's apparel.

"Stores are recognizing that today's guy may choose to dress a lot like today's girl," said Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide, a New York-based marketing company. "There is a lot more blurring of what is female and what is male."

Retailers believe that might be the result of young men's growing appetite for stylish clothes.

"In general, it has always been a cliche that men were not interested in fashion. But younger men are shopping now with more confidence because they have all these fashion icons to look up to in sports and music," said Mark Minsky, senior vice president of merchandising at Doneger Group, an apparel buying company, citing baseball player Derek Jeter and rap artist Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

Bridget Russo, spokeswoman for Diesel USA, said, "Guys are becoming more and more daring, and open to trying more fashion-forward products."

Most of the national mall-based store chains aren't showing men's pants that hug as low as the women's low-rise versions, but the rise -- measured from the top of the inseam to the top of the waist band -- is definitely much lower than on traditional styles, and it's falling. After successfully testing men's pants with a 9-inch rise last year, merchants this season are now marketing rises as low as 7 inches.


The traditional rise for men is 12 inches, which typically ends a half inch below the navel.

Levi's, which backed its offerings of low-rise jeans for women last year with heavy advertising, has launched its "Dangerously Low" campaign in August issues of magazines, promoting the look for both men and women.

Levi's is selling men's jeans with rises as low as 71⁄2; inches. Its women's low-rise pants are now down to 7 inches.

Some trend trackers like consultant Irma Zandl believe the time is right for body-tight clothes, given that a new wave of rock bands, such as Phantom Planet, The Hives and The Strokes are sporting low-slung pants, the uniform of the rock rebel.

But some industry executives, while recognizing the need for more fashion, are not convinced that low-rise styles, featured by fashion-forward men's wear designers two years ago, will have broad appeal.

"This seems to be in a way manufactured," said Michael Wood, vice president of research for Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research company.

At Diesel, Russo noted, there will "always be a guy out there who wants the loose basic pants."

Macy's East, while infusing its men's floors this back-to-school season with a variety of denim washes and treatments, is featuring limited low-rise offerings.


"This is not something we are going to bank on," said Joe Denofrio, senior vice president of fashion.

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