So the makers of men's jeans are trying to be more accommodating. Levi Strauss & Co. added room in the seat and thigh in its newest skinny jeans for men. True Religion added what it calls a "four-way stretch" spandex material to its line of men's jeans selling for between $172 and $398. (Worried that men consider spandex in anything other than gym clothes to be for women only, it isn't advertising that detail.) True Religion says 15% of the top-selling men's jeans in its own retail stores were "slim leg" jeans in the first quarter of 2009, up from 11% in the year-ago first quarter.
A Levi spokeswoman says: "Over the past several months, our men's skinny jeans styles have been among our most requested and top-selling jeans."
Men's premium jeans, a small part of the overall market, have been a bright spot in the current recession. Men's jeans sales totaled $5.31 billion in the U.S. for the 12 months ended April 30, according to market researcher NPD Group, down 2% from a year earlier. But sales of fashion jeans priced $50 and up rose 8%. NPD doesn't track sales by style.
7 for All Mankind, whose men's jeans sell for between $155 and $225, widened the thigh and elongated the distance from the crotch to the top of the waistband on the new skinny men's jeans it will start selling this month. After men complained that the thighs on its jeans were too tight, the label, owned by VF Corp., had male employees at its Los Angeles headquarters walk, squat and bend in prototypes of the new look. It sold the style, called "Jared," at its Los Angeles stores as a test. Customers liked it, says Rosella Giuliani, vice president of design and merchandising, so it is going national. "Guys don't want leggings," says Patrick Robinson, head designer at Gap Inc. Gap's new men's slim jeans, which it calls "Authentic" contain three-quarters of an inch more fabric in the thigh and 1½-inches more in the knee that its current skinny jeans do.The brands also hope the changes will make their skinny jeans appeal beyond the urban hipsters, skater-types, rockers and hip-hop fans who already wear them to men with meatier legs. "I'm an avid cyclist and need to have more room in my jeans because my quads are getting worked on so much," says Michael Ball, co-founder of premium denim brand Rock & Republic, which late last year added stretch to its men's skinny jeans.
Rock & Republic says sales of its men's skinny denim over the past several months rose 26% over last year's figures.
Though the jeans may be getting easier to wear, the look isn't easy to pull off. The trick is to wear skinny jeans with slim-fitting shirts and pointy-toed dress shoes or dressy boots. Any squarish, loose or, worse still, boxy-fit sweater or shirt can make a man's proportions look out of whack and his legs way too skinny.
Dozens of groups opposed to men wearing skinny jeans have formed on Facebook with names like "Men Should Not Wear Skinny Jeans." "Women are supposed to wear skinny jeans," says Stacy Leach, 32, an accounting representative with a property-management firm near Washington. She says she started her own Facebook group against men wearing skinny jeans a couple of months ago because she was "so sick" of seeing them.
The rapper Jay-Z taunts skinny-jeans-wearing rappers as effeminate in his recent song "D.O.A." Sample lyric: "You boys jeans too tight, you colors too bright, your voice too light." A spokeswoman said the rapper wasn't available to comment.
Jerry Seinfeld poked fun at slim-fitting jeans in a 1996 episode of "Seinfeld." The Kramer character barges into Jerry's apartment wearing a pair of jeans so tight he is forced to adopt an unnatural walk. When Kramer has trouble taking off the jeans, Jerry tries to yank them off by the legs. The actor playing Kramer, Michael Richards, injured himself slightly during the filming of that scene.
"As Jerry recalls, it was just a minor little muscle spasm that annoyed him for a couple of days," says Mr. Seinfeld's publicist, Elizabeth Clark Zoia. "But they made our point about men's jeans that require too much effort."
Ioan Rosca says it took him three months to break in a pair of skinny jeans made by William Rast, the fashion line started by pop star Justin Timberlake. "It was a little hard to move at first," says the 19-year-old college student from Irvine, Calif. He bought the jeans a waist size bigger than he normally wears to get them to fit and says he walks a little slower in them. For his efforts, he still gets some teasing from his male friends. "They say, 'You kind of look like a chick,' " he says.
Kevin Moran, a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound, 47-year-old New Yorker, says he gets compliments from men and women whenever he wears his low-rise skinny jeans. "I don't know why some men are so anti-skinny jeans," he says. "I'm sure they think they look just fine in their low baggy jeans that they have to hold up or else they will fall down."