Denim: Getting the Fit

6.12.2005

By Brendan Lemon

Fashion experts will tell you two things about blue jeans. First, they're the most popular item in the U.S. wardrobe (a $14.2 billion business). Second, what counts most to the denim customer is the fit, especially around the rear: For the masses, it's about asses. As more and more consumers are willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for a pair of premium jeans, the perfectly packaged posterior is what makes the shopper part with his dollars. That's the science. Exactly how the denim must wrap round the glutes, however, is the art, because just how a man'straight or gay, black or white'views his butt in jeans is highly subjective, as I discovered recently on a tour of jeans emporia in New York and Los Angeles.

The only way to collect data on the subject is to hang out a little pervily in denim store changing rooms, places where the anxiety level approaches that in women's swimsuit departments. Even the vainest man can be reduced to vanilla pudding if the Sevens don't forgive sufficiently. (By the way, I'm leaving aside the continental man in this analysis; tight jeans on a man in Europe can project not cowering but confidence.)

In denimland it is immediately apparent that most straight men won't try on a pair of premium'$150 and above'jeans alone. The price tag seems to make them aware that they have entered the land of fashion, and therefore they need the validation'the maternal, permission-giving coddling'that apparently only a woman can provide. At Fred Segal, the 'ber-trendy clothing store in L.A., on a Saturday afternoon, I didn't see a single straight guy take a pair of Seven or Paper or True Religion jeans to the checkout without first asking, "Honey, how do I look?" these men never came out from their changing cubicles; they had their girlfriends or wives come into the stalls with them. One guy who did emerge, however, glanced at his Diesel jeans'clad behind nervously, pulled his girlfriend over, and said, "You don't think these are too tight, do you?"

Yes, straight guys are afraid of their asses. Or rather, since they must be checking out their derrieres when they are inside the changing stall, they are afraid of other people seeing them checking out their own behinds. This isn't just a matter of insecurity. It's physically hard to check out the fit on one's own ass. Unless you're Linda Blair and can crane 180, you will never see your ass in jeans exactly the way it's going to look to somebody else.

One afternoon at Barneys New York, while watching a Will-and-Jack pair of gay friends hesitantly check out the fit while trying on jeans, I started chatting up a woman who called herself Val.

"Why are so many men'even some gay ones'so wary of checking out the ass fit so publicly?" I said.

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "It took me two years to get my boyfriend to admit that he liked me playing with his butt while we were in bed. You think he's going to acknowledge his ass in any way, shape, or form around strangers? No way."

Saying that denim fit is essentially about sex and sexual attraction is no new revelation'anyone who ever saw George Michael's 1988 video for "Faith" probably reached the same conclusion (while also wondering just where he could get jeans as artfully torn as the singer's.) While we may all tell ourselves that we seek a denim fit to please ourselves, the fact is that we more often seek the fit that will attract the object of our desire. Women and gay men acknowledge that their desired demographic is going to be checking out their ass, so they themselves had better check it out first. American straight guys don't want to acknowledge that anyone'even a female'is performing the inspection, so they shy away. And if a jean is a little loose-fitting when they get it home? No problem: They'll use a belt to minimize the difference.

Sometimes an ass aversion can involve almost primal fear. One weekday afternoon at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, a straight guy growled at me, "Stop staring at my butt, dude." The fact that I had glanced at his behind because I couldn't believe anybody would try on a pair of $300 jeans that were two sizes too big rather than out of any sexual attraction on my part was completely lost on him.

Contrastingly, when a gay guy at New York's Bloomingdale's SoHo noticed me noticing him in a pair of vintage-y Paper jeans, he smiled conspiratorially, as if to say this must be the right size.

Tags: Fashion
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