From the WSJ For Men, Fancier Pants, Pricier Boxers By TERI AGINS Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL September 3, 2004; Page W12 Douglas Sloan long has indulged in expensive designer blazers, but he never thought he'd spend more than $50 on underwear. A few months ago, the 50-year-old Manhattan film producer noticed a display of cotton boxer shorts that cost $68 -- each -- and he says he was "intrigued that they even existed." He liked the fabric and fit, and now he owns four pairs. "This was one of those moments when I am going to treat myself." This season, designers and retailers are hoping to persuade men to pay a premium for once-mundane items such as T-shirts, jeans and blazers -- the classic components of a guy's wardrobe -- by rolling out higher-quality fabrics, tailored fits and extensive detailing. Champion, known for its $20 gray sweatsuits, has introduced a new line for fall with upscale hoodies, jerseys and knit pants from $50 to $100. Brooks Brothers still is selling its $65 cardigan sweater but is adding a version in Sea Island cotton for $145. On the high end, retailer Paul Stuart is introducing a take on the classic peacoat -- with a lining of nutria fur and a $3,500 price tag. It's the clothing industry's latest attempt to turn things around: Sales of menswear in the U.S. fell 6.4% last year to $46.9 billion from $50.1 billion in 2002, down from $50.8 billion in 2001. It's partly a bet that men, like women, are ready to emerge from their slovenly period of the past few years. Retailers say that after absorbing better-dressing tips from sources such as the TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," men are beginning to notice stuff they used to ignore, from colorful coat linings to underwear that fits just so. In fact, retailers say, they're starting to behave like...girls. "They're making more impulsive purchases," says Robert Burke, senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. "They're viewing shopping as an activity, just like women." One beneficiary is Hanro USA, which makes the $68 boxers Mr. Sloan bought, as well as $48 briefs. After several years of flat sales in its men's division, it says, it has seen growth in the "high double digits" during the past year. "Men are more interested in taking better care of themselves," says company President Cynthia Kelly. Corey Scott says that in his circle, he has noticed guys are seeking a snappier look -- and that for his part, he's trading up to $250 cashmere sweaters from the $30 cotton knits he used to wear. "All of my friends are making the move to dress better," says the 30-year-old scientist in Minneapolis. "You can't just rock with a pair of shorts and jeans anymore." Here's the lowdown on expensive basics for fall: Blazers As the dress-up trend gathers steam, the sales of tailored clothing -- suits, sportcoats and dress slacks -- looks set to rise after years of laggard sales. In the 12 months ending in June, sales of men's tailored clothing stood at $3.8 billion, roughly the same a year earlier, according to market researchers NPD Group. Much of the action is coming from blazers, a cornerstone of the classic wardrobe. Instead of the standard boxy navy or corduroy versions, though, this season stores are pushing blazers in colorful tweeds or herringbones with a tapered fit, higher armholes and English tailoring details such as suede elbow patches and ticket pockets. And look closely or you'll miss the season's high-markup addition -- a strip of contrasting fabric hidden on the underside of the collar. (On Burberry's $650 corduroy blazer, it's the company's signature plaid.) Colorful print linings, made popular by Paul Smith and Etro, also are a big new touch. "Guys are paying more attention to what's under the collar," says Saks Fifth Avenue men's fashion director Michael Macko. The retailer is betting big on blazers, doubling its stock this fall from last year. Accessories Another post-"Queer Eye" trend: accessorizing. Brooks Brothers' is offering a scarf with cashmere on one side and a silk print on the other, for $228. Bergdorf Goodman, meanwhile, is showing a $375 scarf with cashmere herringbone on one side and sheared mink or rabbit on the other. While men always have splurged on shoes, lately the bar has been raised a few feet. Shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo is introducing custom-made shoes on a mass scale -- offering to fit clients at 18 of its stores world-wide starting this fall. Prices start at $800, the shoes take six to eight weeks to make, and Ferragamo gives a choice of 50 sorts of leather and exotic materials from alligator to ostrich. Even slippers are hitting the stratosphere. Later this year, Saks will start selling a $235 "jet slipper" in velvet marketed by the London makers of Jimmy Choo. It's for long plane rides, the store explains, to accommodate swelling feet. Knitwear Knitwear is showing up in fancier versions across the spectrum, from cotton T-shirts to fancy sweaters. Ralph Lauren now offers a pricier alternative to its perennial Polo shirts, with snug or relaxed fit and custom colors. (For $69.50, you get to pick the color of the shirt and polo pony.) The shirts have been brisk sellers on Polo's Web site. Sears, Roebuck & Co. is introducing $34 Italian merino wool sweaters under its new Structure label. Even Champion -- makers of the kind of workaday sweatshirts men used to wear, then wear out, then use for drop cloths -- has come out with a line of upscale hooded sweatshirts, zip-front T-shirts and soccer jerseys. It was enough that one chain of stores that had dropped the brand for being too mass-market recently decided to start selling the gear again. "It's not just a $29 track suit," says Sharon Wright, men's buyer at Dr. Jays, an 18-store specialty chain based in Secaucus, N.J. "It looks more like sportswear." Premium Denim Retailers say men even are ready to venture away from their favorite old jeans. Saks carries a dozen designer denims this season, including brands Paper Denim & Cloth, Seven and Blue Colt. Bergdorf Goodman's top denim pick: Rogan jeans, priced at $250. The extra cash buys everything from stovepipe cuts and ragged seams to signature fabrics (Ermenegildo Zegna has a $185 pair in lightweight Italian denim with a herringbone pattern). At specialty store Stanley Korshak in Dallas, men's sportswear buyer Suzanne Warner says customers who used to come in wearing $4,000 jackets (by designer Kiton) with inexpensive jeans (Gap) now are game to try the new jeans with "sharp-looking" silhouettes, from $110 Levis to $300-plus Rogan jeans. "The 55-year-old guy wants to look like he's 35," she says. "They just don't want to wear their old Levis 501s anymore."
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9/4/04 at 1:53pm