Denim: Getting the Fit


By Brendan Lemon

My theory that denim is inextricably related to sex received further corroboration the afternoon I went to Atrium, New York's premiere premium-denim shop. Erin Sloan, the store's assistant menswear buyer, told me, "When straight men try on trousers, a lot of times they won't even bother to check on the back. But they sure spend a lot of time making sure that the fit in the crotch is just right."

Gay men, Sloan said, seem especially crotch-concerned when they try on low-rise fits, which direct the gaze toward the pubes.

"Gay men," Sloan continued, "look at everything, because it's all potentially bait for the boys at the bar. I notice that they often shop for jeans alone, and that when they do shop with their boyfriend, they don't ask his opinion of the fit behind. They've already hooked that guy; it's everybody else they want to lure now."

As I kept watching guys try on jeans, I couldn't help but think that the 1990s preference for baggy denim was a product not only of hip-hop stylists but of straight guys who didn't want to have to showcase their asses at all. It was a conspiracy of sorts: Let's tighten the denim fit on the honeys (hip-hop videos, of course, are still a bonanza of cinched female booty) even as we relax it on the fellas. They reveal; we conceal. The conspiracy is widespread. There's no gay-male version of the 1990s ode to bouncy booty, "Baby Got Back." Pop culture leaves the majority of the population'women and gay men'posterior-parched.

Even abetted by straight guys' power, however, baggy couldn't last: Loose boxer-topped jeans always looked pretty stupid on anyone over 18, which is why this old-school hip-hop fit is now relegated to white boys in small-town high schools, while rappers favor "loud-logo" brands like budget-busting Evisu ($650 and counting), whose bold patterns erupting on wide, dark denim backgrounds somehow remind me of Thomas Pynchon's famous first sentence in the novel Gravity's Rainbow: "A screaming comes across the sky."

Of course, the loose butt'fit also waned because African-American entrepreneurs like Sean "Puffy" Combs and Jay-Z moved hip-hop back into a slicker aesthetic. "Doesn't matter what your house or apartment really looks like," Combs told me recently, "if your attire has style, you're seen as somebody in the world."

But when it comes to denim fit, a lot of men subscribe neither to the "if you've got it, flaunt it" theory nor the "leave it all to the imagination" school. For example, African-American guys, gay and straight, have been edging into premium denim brands like underground-chic Rogan and Finn Creations, which have distinct style but neither the cramped crotch nor the tight butt'fit many guys are shy about sporting.

Dana Smith, the creator behind Freedom Is Natural Nirvana, the New York'based maker of Finn, told me he started his company partly in reaction to the fact that he and his friends didn't like either the baggy or breathless fit. What's more, says Smith, who once played basketball for Harvard, he and his buddies were athletic and found it hard to buy jeans that accommodated worked-out thighs and glutes but didn't droop like days-old daisies around the waist. Smith added, "Guys now want something that's styling but not stupid."

Even with the diversification in denim styles, aimed at accommodating all kinds of rears, I have to admit that the most dazzlingly denimed derriere I saw in a changing room was on someone attired neither in premium tightness nor new-school realism. I was at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. A tall man in his early 30s tip-toed out of the changing-room stall. He turned around. His fit was so right, I couldn't help complimenting him'in my best low-key, if-you're-straight-just-chill fashion. "What've you got on anyway?" I asked. "They look expensive."

"They're not," he replied. "They're Levi's. They're 501's." I too bought some 501's. Nobody shared my dressing room.

For more about the latest in denim, pick up the July issue of Out.

Tags: Fashion