The Fashion Secret of Stylish Men
There is stretchy material in their suits, shirts and khakis; as more men wear slimmer styles, retailers are admitting they are using stretch
Clothing retailers used to whisper about the stretch in their men’s clothing, out of fear of scaring away men.
This spring, the whisper is becoming a shout
Men finally seem OK with fabrics with elasticity—a staple in women’s fashion for decades. Technology has made stretchy material less boingy (producing an elastic, bouncy sound, like a “boing”), and thus less noticeable, which appeals to men who previously saw even 2 % spandex in a suit and thought cycling shorts. Tighter-fitting styles for suits and casual wear also make a little give appealing, or even feel like a necessity. Men say they want some leeway around the shoulders, elbows, thighs and knees.
Bonobos, which is in talks to be acquired by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., last month introduced a line of pants: Stretch Weekday Warriors. The company also didn’t shy away from the word in promoting them with the tagline, “Stretch your weekday further with extra comfort.” Mr. Fenton says, “Not long ago we would have told mills not to show us stretch fabrics.”
Dustin Godsey, chief marketing officer for the Milwaukee Bucks, had never purchased pants with stretch until a couple of months ago, when they arrived as part of a clothing subscription service. Had it not been for the service, the 38-year-old wouldn’t have bought pants with stretch, he says. He has long thought clothes with stretch “almost seem not appropriate for work or business attire,” he said. “I don’t want to wear sweatpants to work.”
But he liked the way the stretch made the new pants feel and they were comfortable. “It’s the same look, [as jeans and dress pants] but it feels like your sweatpants,” he says. Earlier this week, he tweeted: “I resisted for a long time, but let me tell you folks…getting pants with just a little bit of stretch in them is life altering.” Regarding the tweet, he says, “I’m a fairly recent convert and I just felt like people should know.”
J. Crew in February 2017 posted a video to reassure men that a little stretch is OK. In the 30-second clip, models wear stretch jeans while they pop wheelies on a motorbike, play tennis in a suit made with stretch, and slide on a wet plastic Slip ‘N Slide style tarp in a pair of stretch chinos. J. Crew posted it on its website and YouTube channel, where it has gotten 617277 views since February.
In a new J. Crew campaign on its website, men can click on a tab that says “Shop all stretch.” There was no such thing two years ago, when J. Crew first started adding stretch to men’s clothes. That’s a change from the past. Often “when a guy thinks stretch, he thinks running leggings” or something clingy, says Frank Muytjens, head of men’s design at J. Crew, who left the company on Tuesday amid a raft of changes.
“We introduced stretch in a small way, in a garment-dyed short, just to test, to see how our guy would react,” Muytjens says. Now there is a bigger variety. Over the past year the company has launched a version of its top-selling cotton 9” shorts with stretch, stretch dock shorts, stretch chinos, and a line of its Ludlow and Crosby suits in a new stretch fabric.
Dockers plans to highlight stretch “very loud and proud for him” with in-store packaging and at cash registers when it launches this fall a new line of khakis with twice as much stretch as its other khakis, says Robert Dellaporte, a Dockers spokesman.
The newer clothes don’t look stretchy—unlike those seen on disco dance floors in the 1970s. Advances in weaving technology have reduced the much-disliked shiny effect and made blending stretch with natural fabrics more seamless.
Some companies have been putting stretch in men’s clothes for many years but staying away from using the word, opting for more masculine, muscular terms like “flex.”
The brand Theory was considered ground breaking when it launched in 1997 for using Lycra in its office-friendly womenswear. Theory debuted menswear two years later and added stretch there too, but never really talked about it. When the company promoted its new Neoteric pant, made with 5% elastane, a type of stretch, and 95 % polyamide, a synthetic fibre, it used technological-breakthrough terms. The company has since launched two new styles of the pants and for fall, will introduce a technical tailored wool suit with 7 % elastane.
Theory’s levels of stretch are higher than some other companies. Bonobos’ Stretch Weekday Warrior pants include 2 % elastane and Ralph Lauren’s knit oxfords in stretch cotton, launched in 2015, contain 2 % elastane. Dockers’ new Smart 360 Flex khaki pants use 4 % stretch, up from 2 % in prior versions. The new line uses four-way stretch, meaning the stretch fabric extends sideways and up and down. The four-way fabric extends to the waistband too, so it expands and snaps back into place.
Brooks Brothers recently started adding stretch to some shirts and pants after walking away from the idea a few years ago because “men just weren’t interested in it,” says Guy Voglino, vice president and global brand manager of men’s. The company has stretch in almost all its products, he says. “Your stride becomes easier. Sitting down becomes less noticeable, because the pant is moving with your body. Even shirts, when you’re sitting at your computer, driving your car, there’s just no resistance when there’s stretch.”