It's starting to happen. Men are actually dressing like TV fashion plates and models in magazines. Real men, the kind you see in the streets, are changing their approach to dress. They're taking the biggest chances in the smallest fashion details. But they say they have a strong motivator--women--encouraging them to try new styles. They also say that other men are their toughest critics.
One of the looks they're testing is from among the many that Don Johnson made famous on the TV series, "Miami Vice." Men are slipping their bare feet into dress shoes. Some go so far as to wear oxfords over bare feet for black-tie parties. The Johnson way is to wear Italian loafers without socks.
"It has a lot to do with attitude," explains Christopher Ravard, a student at USC. "With the no-socks look you're breezy, off the cuff."
Faded blue jeans with holes in the knees are another hot item right now. Heavy metal rockers had something to do with making it popular. So did stylish blue jeans ads from Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Guess?.
But French designer Francois Girbaud took it to the limit when he started shipping his blue jeans to stores, pre-shredded. Now other European companies sell shredded styles for $100 and more. At Fred Segal on Melrose Avenue, store spokesman Bruce Westcott says threadbare denims, not quite ripped through, are even more in demand right now. They allow the buyer to make the final, fashionable breakthrough at the knees.
Some men are starting to match torn jeans with a turtleneck sweater and a jacket for dress. Even so, Jeff Styler says, "It's probably a holdover from the '60s."
He prefers to wear his "strategically ripped" denims in a very casual way, with a black leather jacket and motorcycle boots.
Styler, a free-lance translator, first saw the look in Paris. "Women think it's sexy," he finds. "This is men dressing for women."
When other men tease him, he assumes they're just jealous. "It's competition," he contends. "They think you will attract more women if you call attention to yourself."
For a newer play on fashion, some men are starting to wear sunglasses, indoors, at night. It's something male models have been doing on fashion runways for a while. And Jack Nicholson has worn the look for years. Styler says he spied Nicholson wearing sunglasses all through a circus performance one recent night.
At L.A. clubs, men are wearing dark glasses on the dance floor.
"You can really let go," explains Ravard, a devotee of the trend. "You can close your eyes or look at someone else's dance partner."
Of all the latest fashion details, men's hair styles are perhaps the most widely accepted, with clean-cut ponytails setting a style and crossing the age barriers. Younger men wear a short, tailored ponytail to imitate Bono Hewson, the lead singer of the U2 band. Older men wear it because they did before, in the '60s.
Michael Kudler says he is wearing his ponytail the newest way--"Samurai style" with the sides falling free. "Women love it," he says. "Maybe because they have a familiarity with it."
Kudler, a San Franciscan now attending school in New York, hasn't changed his hair color, but plenty of men have. Beauty salons are turning out bottled-blond men, as well as men with body permanents.
"At first, they shy away from the terminology," says stylist Jo Anne Monastero, who adds that 45% of her clients at Umberto in Beverly Hills are men. "But before long, they call and ask for a hair weaving, or another treatment, by name."
Hair steaked with color is in great demand among men. So are permanents that give longer hair "definition." Prices at most Beverly Hills salons are the same for men and women--about $85 to $125 for permanents, $25 to $85 for color.
Monastero's customers are men 20 to 45, from the movie industry, politics or university campuses. But there are others too. "I have a meatpacker who's talking about coloring his gray hair."
"Women aren't critical of a man with permanent-wave rods in his hair," she finds. "It's a way for a person's creative nature to come through, and women like to see that in men."
Self-expression seems to be everybody's explanation for men's new approach to fashion and grooming. Hubert Bank, who never wears socks except when on the job at the Hertz Corp., says: "Men want flexibility. That's why all of this is happening."
At the California Mart, menswear fashion director Ron Arden has another explanation. Because more men stay single longer now, they have more money to spend on their appearance. "They're out in the market and concerned about their images longer," he notes. "Image plays an important role in success, both in their career and their social life."
Among other things, Arden says, this attention to details, and broader fashion strokes, has been the ruination of an old stereotype. "Men play the role of the macho who doesn't care how he looks," Arden says.
"But they really care very much."