Peak Oil and Peak Beard, you’ve heard of. Now I’m calling it in menswear: 2016 is the year of Peak Tightness. The wheel is about to turn full circle. The pants-pendulum has reached the outer extremity of its arc. At last – praise be! – bagginess is rising anew.
Most men do not know that the revolution is coming. Take a look on the street: the majority of younger males (and wish-they-were-younger males) have their legs sausaged into permutations of the “skinny jean”. The elastene with which the denim is spiked enables this garment to cling to the leg without overly compromising free movement. On practical grounds, I do not have much against skinny jeans. Unless you get sweaty, they are really very comfortable. Scare stories that they can cause thrombosis remain unproven. Until recently, their only major downsides were the unlovely hanging gussets that develop after a few washes, and their elastic propensity to pull open all but the most firmly closed flies.
Tailoring also remains in the grip of tightness. The professional peacocks at Florence’s Pitti Uomo – the largest trade show in menswear – retain their fondness for super-cinched pants that flash inches of ankle. The male wannabe entrepreneurs in Britain’s version of “The Apprentice” wear vile spray-on suits. And if you saw the most recent James Bond flick, you might well have noticed Daniel Craig constantly rearranging himself in his super-tight Tom Ford tailoring, then wondered how he managed so many ninja kicks without bursting a seam. Forget shooting down a helicopter with a handgun or seducing Monica Bellucci at her husband’s funeral: for me this was by far the most unbelievable stunt in the movie.
What James Bond, Justin Bieber and the guys on your high street choose to wear today represents mainstream, late-adopter taste. Like the Macaronis and Mods before them, they are in thrall to a consensus for close-fitting trousers that has ebbed and flowed through the pants-wearing ages. This latest squeeze appeared on menswear’s catwalks at the turn of the century when Helmut Lang and Raf Simons burst the baggy spell cast by Japanese designers and hip-hop culture.
It took designer Hedi Slimane (first at Dior Homme, now at Saint Laurent) to push tight pants into the mainstream. In November 2000 that long-serving bellwether of the zeitgeist, Karl Lagerfeld, was gripped by the desire to don Slimane’s Dior Homme super-slim trousers. It was an urge so powerful, he later said, that he lost six stone specifically to fit into them. To harmonise with this new leg-silhouette, jackets shrunk into “bum-breezers”, tighter of fit and higher of skirt. Early-adopter cults – chiefly east London hipsters and Belleville bohos – went tight shortly after. By 2005, skinny jeans made their debut in the influential British mass-fashion retailers Topshop and Topman. The saggy-gusset, masculine muffin-top years were upon us.
The life-cycle of a trend usually goes thus: once what used to be niche becomes ubiquitous, as tight trousers have, they become ripe for disruption. The generational impulse to define itself against what has gone before demands it.
A decade is a long time for a trend such as skinnies to dominate, even in the slower-moving milieu of male fashion; and on the catwalks, designers who are especially sensitive to the tidal flow of taste have been laying the ground for a paradigm shift in pants-wearing for several seasons now. At Zegna Couture, Stefano Pilati went wide, saying he likes to feel the breeze lapping his legs. Gordon Richardson’s team at Topman invoked Northern Soul nostalgia for his broad dancing pants. The most aggressive evangelist of looseness is Patrick Grant of ETautz, whose references arc way back to Oxford bags. Armani, Fendi, Bally, Dolce & Gabbana and Lanvin have all relaxed south of the navel.
For the moment, these baggy revivalists are a loose faction with an aligned interest. What they need – and what 2016 must surely provide – is a catalyst so powerful that he brings home to the masses just how old tight pants have become. Somewhere out there is a cultural avatar so Insta-influental – Justin Bieber, Kanye West or Cameron Dallas are on my shortlist – that his rejection of the skinny leg for the loose will start a wave of imitators. All he needs to do is put on the baggy trousers that destiny demands. Once he does, the skinny jean will soon seem as dated as the loon pant. Change is gonna come. So before it does, change your trousers.