In 1996, it's a different story altogether. The recession is disappearing over the horizon and in celebration there's a veritable explosion of style, pattern and colour. Just take a trip to 'Top Man' at London's Oxford Circus or a store near you to see for yourself. Everywhere you look, the flat- fronted, "frog-mouth" trouser (frog-mouth being the new trouser aficionado's description for the flat-lined top of the pocket) awaits. High-entry pockets abound. Turn-ups are over, pleats are passe, fun pinstripes are back and checks, either bold or unassuming, are most certainly in. Even combat trousers are fighting a losing battle; passing without much fuss into the more stately 'classic' category.
There are strong oranges, limes and lemons to complement the old-guard colours. Lycra, viscose, polyester and rayon sit merrily alongside, cotton, linen and wool. Whether you're talking separate or suit, a brave new world of trousers for men has opened up and on the street and in the clubs the challenge is being met.
But, as ever, fashion will have its victims and the flat-fronted trouser revolution is no exception. They are designed to reward the man who works out as well as works over-time. The man-made fabrics provide that subtle snug, stretch and wrap feel. Slim, lean figures are best-suited and if you're not part of the fraternity it can be a problem - as women have known for decades.
The flat-front, best worn with a bright cropped shirt that you don't tuck in and a cool pair of functional sandals, harks back to the youthful cultural iconography of the late 60's, and reflects the big-time renaissance of the slinky, sleek Gucci look of the 1970s.
What the male catwalk model wears is in the high-street and top-end designer stores before you can say "too tight" these days. If you're over-weight, have heavy thighs or are just too old, you might want to pass by the flat- fronts. You may find your waist size but it's the shape of the legs that will trip you up. It's never been an easy thing to go on the straight and narrow.
Nigel Curtiss, the Japan-based design guru, whose creations are stocked by Jones, Browns, The Library and Garcon in the UK, admits that some men can face a real problem finding trousers that flatter and reflect the current world-wide trend. He does supply a flat-front trouser that carries a tiny pleat but it is more out of deference than sympathy; a detail. Otherwise it's business as usual with the flat-front cut, brightness, loudness, and checks. "It's the feel-good factor at work," he says. "A reaction against the drab recession. Why not cheer everyone up?" (He points out that in America, one of his biggest export markets, the best place to shop if the middle-age spread is upon you is 'Maxfield' on the West Coast. It's where the likes of Jack Nicholson and the ageing Hollywood stars and moguls go so they don't have to sit around the pool all the time).
For autumn, the Curtiss collection will reflect more conservatism in colour. Charcoal grey, blues and blacks will feature, with heavy wool and velvet keeping out the chill wind. However, the style and silhouette remain and humour continues to inform this more formal tailoring with, for example, the arrival of a fabulous flat-front pin-stripe in blue and yellow.
Both Max Plaskow and Nitin Parmar, designers at Designworks and Reiss respectively, tell a similar tale when it comes to the what's in and why of trousers. They operate at the exclusive end of the market, as close to the catwalk as possible, and agree that the Seventies influence is key, although, as Plaskow points out, "UK tailors and designers have been into flat-front for three years or so. It may not last forever, we'll have to wait and see." Nevertheless, as long as the likes of Paul Smith and Dolce e Gabbana continue to sketch a trouser that alludes to the women's hipster, the immediate future seems assured.
It seems that the 'directional' people - the men's style magazines - who shape lifestyles for men have altered the mind-states and habits of everyone at each stage of the chain. The buyers buy what's selling. And men are buying into the body-beautiful myth, from skin-care to trousers. Designers both realise and embroider the fantasy. In most respects, when it comes to fashion, men are following the example set by women. There are inherent dangers in this as the advent of the anorexic man graphically illustrates, but on the plus side men are far more open-minded and confident about what they will wear.
However, if this long, lean and flat look isn't for you, don't despair. There is always Armani to consider, if your budget stretches that far. Practically every high-street name of repute will continue to cater for all shapes and sizes. Marks and Spencer are introducing the flat-front cautiously for the autumn, checks and all, but Ray Walters, senior selector for men's trousers, points out that pleats are still news for the traditional M&S customer. He says: "We will be stocking more plain-fronted trousers but in a conventional fit. We go up to a 42" in the frog-mouth anyway."
Interestingly, Roy Edmondson, marketing director at Levi Strauss UK Ltd, doesn't feel threatened by all this at all. And why should he? Sales are up and the Western jean is a must in the expansive wardrobe of today's male. "A Levi Strauss jean is not a fashion item but a classic standard," he states, with all the confidence in the world. It's nice to know some things will never change.Reuse content