For the longest time, John Gregory had a denim dilemma. Gregory favors ultra-low-slung, dangerously tight, rock-glam jeans, but most men's brands are just too baggy or look too blah for the self-described "skinny dude."
So at the suggestion of his wife, Brandie, the 32-year-old musician tried on a pair of women's jeans. He now regularly dons women's size-12 denims because, he says, such brands as Seven and Lucky work wonders on his lanky 6-foot physique.
"Not all of us guys have big bulging thighs and a big butt," the Angeleno laments. "Sometimes we need all the help we can get."
For the more adventurous modern man of style, a stroll past lingerie, capri pants and halter tops to the women's jeans section just might be the ticket to a slimmer fit through the hips and thighs, thanks in part to stretchy Lycra fibers blended into the denim. That and an itsy-bitsy 3- to 5-inch rise -- the length from the top of the waistband to the joint seam in the crotch -- as opposed to the more modest men's version with a 10-inch rise.
There's a comfort factor involved in that the shorter rise drops the waistband so it doesn't cut into a man's stomach. But mostly it's about the look. Paired with a boxy T-shirt, women's low-rise jeans let the guys show off a little flash of flesh, just like the girls.
So are men getting in touch with their feminine sides?
"The dividing line between the genders is blurring," says Lynne Luciano, author of "Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America" (Hill & Wang). Luciano, a history professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, says that because the stigma of male vanity isn't as intense as it used to be, "men are intent on looking young and good. And wearing tight jeans is always the way of being associated with youth, vigor and sex appeal, even if it means wearing ladies' jeans."
But to carry off the look takes a certain attitude and confidence, says David Wolfe, menswear expert and creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York fashion-trend consulting firm. "I think you stand differently, you walk differently when you wear low-rise," says Wolfe, who steps out in low-rise jeans himself. "But when a guy wears a woman's low-rise, you swagger in that Old West kind of way because most women's low-rise jeans are really made for a young girl, and young girls have no hips, which is why they fit a man's body perfectly."
Menswear goes feminine
Men who wear women's jeans -- and, retailers say, their numbers are growing in major cities such as L.A., New York and Miami -- exemplify another trend that's been building: the feminization of menswear. During the past few seasons, menswear has embraced feminine touches, becoming more casual and tighter, with softer silhouettes, colors and fabrics, even more revealing.
Earlier this year, some vanguard designers showing their autumn-winter collections went so far as to put male models in pleated skirts, knee-high socks and leggings. One even wore a bra to fill out a tight turtleneck. There's also a line of tights for men from the Wolford hosiery makers being marketed as "waist socks."
And men's skivvies have gone drastically south; some versions are being designed as much as three inches lower on the waist to fit the latest hip-hugging men's jeans. From Jockey to Joe Boxer to 2(x)ist, many of the newer underwear styles are as compact as a woman's thong.
Tony Maura, 20, is a convert, in a big way: "I don't own one single pair of men's jeans." The 6-foot-tall, 150-pound assistant manager for an Aveda skin care boutique in San Diego has quite a collection of women's labels (Seven, Habitual, Paper Denim & Cloth and Miss Sixty). Maura shops at Snob, a boutique in Corona del Mar where owner Ramine Hajipour also fesses up to having once worn women's Earl jeans. He switched to a men's low-rise style when it came on the market.
"Most guys that come in here -- gay and straight -- don't think that wearing girls' jeans with stretch in them or jeans that are really, really low look girlie," Hajipour says. "They're into it because they want a rock 'n' roll look. They know that wearing a girl's pant won't turn them into a girl. They're confident," he says, adding that a new women's couture denim line called Monge (which also offers a men's line) is being bought by guys. "It's the hug on the body, the stretch factor," he says, that men -- like women -- find appealing.
Maura agrees. "They're way more flattering," he says. He's even persuaded "at least 20" of his friends "to make the switch," he brags.
Gregory, who is recording an album for Atlantic Records, also isn't shy about his affinity for women's jeans. He's talked up the idea to a few pals, including his drummer, "who's getting hip to it. My friends will comment about my jeans, and I'll go, 'Dude, they're girls' jeans. Check it out,' " he says, quickly adding that he also wears several men's brands.
Swiping girlfriends' jeans
Los Angeles designer Daniella Clarke introduced the world to her Frankie B. women's ultra-low jeans about four years ago and two years later created a men's line because "I kept hearing from guys that they were wearing their girlfriends' jeans."
Her husband, Gilby, a guitarist touring with the band Heart, and many of his friends are so used to wearing the women's styles (with a 3-inch zipper as opposed to the men's 6-inch zipper) that they won't wear anything else. "He likes them because they're sexier," Daniella Clarke says.
But she notes that any guy wearing a woman's low-riding jean soon learns how to land on and launch off a chair to prevent a cheeky situation from developing. "You've gotta wear a belt," she says. "It's a must."
Orit Moldovan, manager of the Beverly Center's Traffic women's store, says she began noticing about six months ago that when men didn't like the fit of the jeans at the Traffic men's store, they didn't freak when salespeople suggested checking out the women's store.
"Some guys will attempt to get into the 4-inch-rise jeans, and it doesn't work," she says. "But then others will get into them and they look rock-star hot."
At the Express store at Hollywood & Highland, guys have been snapping up the women's styles, spokeswoman Eve Freedner says. Ditto for several Express stores in New York, where Freedner is based.
"It's definitely a trend within the low-rise trend," she says. "Our buyers are always saying how they saw a guy trying on women's jeans."
About one in every 50 Express jeans customers is a man, Freedner estimates, which is why the chain got savvy and next month will trot out three new low-rise styles with a little stretch specifically designed for men who like the fit of women's jeans.
"They'll be straighter, slimmer, hotter and dangerously sexy," Freedner says.