Don't These Designer Jeans Make My Ass Look Great?

Are women ready for Minnesota guys who spend $5,000 a year on boutique clothing--and aren't ashamed to talk about it?

So there I was, with my fashionably unwashed hair, sitting at the bar at Nami, right before last call on a Friday. I was minding my own business--which was to mind the business of all the smartly dressed people in the lounge, mingling around the DJ booth, huddled around the tables, smoking cigarettes on the overstuffed couches. Girls in tight rugby shirts with tooled-leather belts, dudes in retro candy-striped button-downs with spread collars and black Beatles boots. Everybody in designer jeans. In a place like this, around people like this, I've always felt on the outside ogling in.

But I was trying my best: rocking my "Kiss Me I'm Irish" T-shirt under an olive corduroy sport coat and pinstriped trousers, trying to hide my staring problem behind a Makers soda. In walked a beautiful flowered shirt, with a blonde on each arm, making his way up to the bar. After placing drink orders for the girls, he looked me over and handed me a card. Rather than trumpeting the latest hot DJ on Tuesday nights, it simply read: TERRY TERWEDO: FASHION CONSULTANT.

"Come down and see me sometime," he said.

Crystal Baall

Was this pity for a fashion casualty in pinstripes and a T-shirt? My whole fashion life flashed before my eyes: that Batman T-shirt in seventh grade. The short hair and J.Crew golf shirts in high school. Before I could get to the frayed sweatshirt and ugly chinos of my college years, Terry interrupted my reverie, "Yeah, man, I like your style. Come check out my store in the Galleria--Len Druskin."

I was in! Finally admitted to the fraternity of pretty young dudes fluttering around Uptown and downtown places like Nami, Bar Lurcat, the Speakeasy, Martini Blu, Mell's Beauty Bar, and Cosmos. Maybe you think this is silly. Maybe you're not as self-conscious as I am. But looking around, I think maybe you are. Young men in their 20s and 30s seem to be dressing better than ever these days. So rather than worrying about how long I had before the fraternity figured out I was a fraud (and the clock is ticking--for as Coco Chanel said, "Fashion is made to become unfashionable"), I started wondering if men really are dressing better. Are we spending more money on clothes? What are we buying? Where are we buying it? Who are we dressing better for?

So I went to see Terry Terwedo. Located in Edina's upper-crust Galleria mall for 26 years, Len Druskin was a women's couture dressmaker catering to what Terwedo identifies as a "mostly Jewish," ladies-that-lunch clientele. Four years ago, Len's son Michael transformed it into a chic boutique for both men and women. Since the expansion, in the midst of a recession, the store reports that their men's-apparel sales have tripled--largely in the dressing-sharp market the industry calls "sportswear." Most men still buy their clothing at department stores, but Len Druskin belongs to a small group of boutiques that have either added or expanded their men's sections, such as InToto or the Lava Lounge, or are solely for men, like Exile on Harmon. All these stores feature similar minimalist design--stark white walls and dark lacquered shelves. The look is reminiscent of a gallery space where something more abstract than $40 T-shirts and $150 designer jeans should be on display.

House music plays unobtrusively from hidden speakers as Terwedo, in a blue and white striped short-sleeved shirt with a pair of blue jeans, walks across the floor to greet me. As a fashion consultant, it's Terwedo's job to teach us men the difference between what looks sexy and what makes our butts look big--though it goes against our nature to seek such advice. "About five years ago, the suit industry went to business-casual and a lot of clothes were transition clothes that you could wear during the day or at night," Terwedo explains.

"Now it's completely separate. Classic example: I've got a guy, Jack, who wears $5,000 Brioni suits during the day. To the nines. When he goes out at night, he wants to put on his Seven jeans, his Puma jacket, and a T-shirt and go out and be cool. He's in his mid-30s. He makes about a half mil a year. He'll come in here and spend 800 to a g."

While not everybody is coming in to spend $1,000, Terry explains that some men spread out their expenses by coming in once a week. "My friend Nick is a classic Friday night, 6:30, coming off work, coming here to get his outfit for the night. We'll press it up for him and he's ready to go. Anybody can afford a $60 shirt a week," Terwedo says. Splurging here is to be saved for in other areas: "You just have to hit a two-for-Tuesdays earlier in the week or something," he laughs.

Terwedo clearly loves his job--he's been in retail for nine years--but sometimes he can be frustrated by the awkward relationship between men and the racks. You think some of the pickup lines out at the clubs are embarrassing? According to Terwedo, guys can be just as ham-handed trying to get into a new shirt. "The first thing guys go for, every single guy on the planet, is blue. I push guys to a cool salmon color. It brings out the life in their face, but they don't know that until they try it on."

Terwedo concludes young men are wearing the clothes they buy at Len Druskin in order to "get laid." Well, duh. But when did getting laid require a salmon shirt that coordinates with your personal color palette and a $175 pair of jeans?

I walk out of Len Druskin with many more questions--and a $175 pair of jeans that I know City Pages won't let me expense.

 

Hanging out with Terwedo, I begin to understand the dangers of an article on men's fashion: You can say whatever you want about fashion and sound authoritative. Terwedo kept telling me, "Oh, denim is going to be hot." No wonder he likes my style--according to him jeans-and-a-T-shirt is making a huge comeback this summer.

Well, with my new pair of jeans I didn't have any anxiety about losing my summer pass to the urban dandy club. Sure, my butt looked great, but I started to worry about other things: What is progress in men's fashion? Does being able to decode the back-pocket stitching on a pair of jeans mean we're becoming not just more fashionable but also more like women? (And will that help me with women?)

To address some of these questions I call up Joel Nelson, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota who teaches a course on consumer behavior. Professor Nelson surely would give me the hard numbers I was looking for.

"Overall," he says, "women tend to spend 75 percent more than men." Challenging my intuitive sense that men are dressing better, Nelson maintains that this number hasn't changed in 30 years.

"Men are wearing highly standardized goods," Nelson explains. "A man is more likely to buy a suit 10 years ago and wear it for the next 10 years. Men tend to see it as a long-term investment, whereas women are more interested in differentiation. They're dealing with more of a disposable fashion industry and paying top dollar for an outfit that they'll wear once to a special occasion."

So the casual and sportswear explosion of the early '90s forced men to buy different kinds of clothes, but according to the good professor, we still don't "differentiate" like women. Men have always gravitated to The Uniform: Whether it's a suit and tie at the office, or khakis and a button-down in our post-cazh Fridays world, or a jean jacket with tiny punk band pins at the Entry.

"It hasn't changed," Nelson concludes, "In spite of what is heralded in GQ and other places. The interesting indicator from my point of view," he continues, "is that if you walk through Rosedale, or Ridgedale, or even the Mall of America, on average, there are many more..."

Ridgedale? Okay, the professor obviously has a handle on what's going on out in uh...where's Ridgedale again? But the downtown pretty boys aren't part of the Dockers nation. So my next call was to Tom Julian, a trend analyst for Fallon Worldwide in New York. His job is to know what the hipsters are going to be wearing before the hipsters put on their Paul Frank boxer-briefs in the morning. Julian didn't really contradict Professor Nelson's numbers. The average male, he says, dishes out between $500 and $700 a year on clothes; women spend roughly twice that. More interesting is his theory on the flow of fashion information. Men have long--and often wisely--allowed the women in their lives to dress them. Now, Julian suggests, men are letting the people who influence their wives and girlfriends dress them, too.

"Media has played a role," he says. "Take the designer-jeans revitalization: A lot of these denim labels caught on very quickly in the young women's fashion world--think Sex and the City--and immediately spilled over into the menswear world." Designer denim companies like Seven and Earl launched new men's lines after their success with women, and then women pushed their boyfriends and their brothers into places like Len Druskin. So women may be responsible for the initial push, but, according to Julian, the differences between male and female consumers are narrowing.

The expansion of our closets has followed the expansion of media outlets instructing us on what to stock them with. There are more product-oriented men's magazines, and more fashion features in mainstream publications--even the New York Times has a biannual men's clothing supplement. And then there's the proliferation of television programs in which celebrities open their homes and closets for our greater consumer envy. Women have always wanted to cop the style of a celebrity like Drew Barrymore; now it seems men want to look like Fabrizio Moretti.

 

Though the experts possessed a certain amount of, um, expertise, neither of them spoke to the shame my father and his father before him would feel if they found out that I'm becoming the kind of guy who notices if a well-made shirt has gauntlet buttons--and, in fact, has personal feelings about the thickness and coloration of those buttons. Outfitted in my new jeans, I headed back to Nami, where this whole journey started.

First, I approached Devin, a tall, 28-year-old model-slash-waiter to ask how he formulates his style. He's wearing a fitted Donna Karan V-neck tee with a slim pair of trousers and square-toed Prada shoes. He says he spends around $4,500 a year on clothes, buying most of his stuff at Marshall Field's, with the occasional pair of jeans or a shirt from Len Druskin or Exile. Devin echoes trend analyst Julian when he says that men are watching movies, commercials, and videos more closely to see what looks good and what doesn't. But most of all, he thinks the code of manly conduct has changed.

"I talk to my buddies in a way that wouldn't have been accepted a while ago," he explains. "You know, you hear girls say, 'That's a pretty dress. Where did you get it?' Well, now I can ask my buddy where he got that shirt without being embarrassed."

Talking to Devin and others, one senses a new tolerance for male vanity. At least from men. But I still had doubts. What about women? Do they really want a guy that cares as much about primping as they do? Would a woman in a bar rather find you staring tactlessly at her chest--or catch you checking your own reflection in the mirror behind the bar?

To find out, I sit down with the hippest couple in the room...or rather, the only couple that doesn't sneer openly at my cheap Panasonic voice recorder (sneer now, everybody, but trust me, the "media look" is going to be hot--think Jayson Blair: frumpy, devious). Jeff is a 32-year-old writer, with light blonde highlights and a vintage gym-class hoodie; Kella is a 34-year-old film editor, with a jean jacket over what looks to be a satin slip. Kella explains that despite her stubbly-chinned arm candy, she finds a man obsessed with fashion to be "creepy." She's disgusted by somebody who "pays too much attention to labels" and seems to be "trying too hard."

Jeff immediately counters, "Oh, that's not true. Men just don't admit [their interest]. They're self-conscious about knowing too much about fashion. But if we dressed like shit, you wouldn't look twice. Look, I know which labels look good on me. I'll spend $150 on designer jeans because I have a weird body shape. It's hard for me to find the money go-to look that I can fit into."

Kella isn't buying it. "If a guy says, 'I'm really into Kenneth Cole,' then he's gay, period. It's attractive when men don't care about fashion."

Hmm. The ladies want their men to care just enough to look like we don't shop at the Gap, but they don't want them to try too hard because that looks "gay." So what does queer America--long lauded as the best dressers among the tribe of men--make of the newly fashionable (allegedly) straight man? Have the likes of the Strokes and Pharrell Williams displaced the queer fashion icon?

With those questions in mind, I hit Jet Set on a Saturday night. I first run into D.W., a tall, thin 29-year-old designer in a red-and-pink-striped Western shirt with a pair of tan stretch-fabric pants. "This shirt looks great with jeans," he says, "plus it's a little cowboy look. And you can wear it with beige, you can wear it with brown, you can wear it with anything." D.W. thinks that gay men are still driving men's fashion because, unlike straight men, they aren't afraid of sticking out, even in Minneapolis. "I think [gay men] take more risks," he says. "I mean, you don't even see capri pants on guys here except for gay guys. But everywhere else people wear capri pants. And when I wear mine, everybody looks at me like, 'Why are you wearing capri pants?' Even girls ask, 'Why are you wearing capri pants?'"

James, a 30-year-old financial consultant with shoulder-length brown hair, gray slacks, and a windowpane print button-down, insists his gaydar is no less precise for the proliferation of fancy-looking straight decoys. "[Gay men] look like we're trying harder," James notes. "But it doesn't necessarily mean we're successful." He continues on an All About Eve note by claiming that "gay men have problems dressing age-appropriate."

"Old gay guys want to dress like they're 20," he continues. "At a certain point, you stop wearing Kenneth Cole and you start wearing Liz Claiborne."

In fact, straight or gay, most of the best-dressed men in town accessorize with a latent cattiness. Okay, I know it's not macho to whine about the burdens of being a modern man, but evidently I dispensed with that macho thing when I decided to squeeze myself into these Paper, Denim & Cloth brand jeans. Maybe you agree with social critics like Susan Faludi, who argue that we've been emasculated by a bitch of an economy that places less and less value on, you know, a set of cojones, forcing us to repackage the goods. Or perhaps you believe anxiety is being produced by the pressure to look good, from the media, your girlfriend, and the guy with the posh shoes across the bar. Either way, it seems men are taking it out on each other. And we do it primarily by disparaging the very fashion plate on which we all live.

At Bar Lurcat, I talk to Alex, a 36-year-old hairdresser, wearing a white shirt with a Nehru collar. "Men dress too sloppy in Minneapolis," he snips. Alex spends about $5,000 a year on clothing, and he considers himself to have the advantage of perspective. "I travel around the world," he says. "I see the way people dress and their fashions in different cities." He isn't completely without hope, however, for our metropolis' fashion future. Things would improve immediately, he says, if only "shorts were outlawed at bars and restaurants in the state of Minnesota."

Isaac, a 29-year-old whom I meet at Cosmos, is wearing what he calls "not a jacket jacket--more like an overshirt" with beige boot-cut slacks. He claims to spend around $3,000 a year, and is one of many to lead off by telling me that he shops exclusively outside of Minneapolis. (It's de rigueur to have at least one item from New York, or LA, or somewhere else.) "I actually do all my shopping in Montreal and Toronto," he states matter-of-factly. "Minneapolis is getting better, but I don't think we'll ever catch up. It helps that there are some cooler places to go downtown.

"But are men dressed better? Not really. There was somebody in here earlier with a really tight lycra shirt and pinstriped '20s-style gangster pants. Just awful. I hope he's not with you."

Pinstripes? Tsst. That's so six months ago.

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