Men's Style: Will Skinny Bodies Follow Skinny Jeans?

Skinny jeans are in for men —and the bodies that fit into them may be the next big thing. A UK-based mannequin maker will soon roll out a new collection of mannequins with a 27-inch waist and a physique that has been described as having a "starved" look. Guest host Allison Keyes talks with GQ Style Editor Adam Rapoport about the skinny rage, what it means for the runway and what it means for men's health.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

And we're talking fashion. From uber-skinny men to plus-sized women, the industry is changing. You'll hear from full-figured model Ashley Graham in a minute. She's making waves with a lingerie ad that a couple of TV networks refuse to air in its original form.

But first, more about the incredible shrinking man. Skinny jeans are all the rage for guys, and apparently bodies that fit into the glove-like getups are the next big thing - or, really, a small thing. A U.K.-based company will soon debut a new line of male mannequins with a 27-inch waist and a rather, shall we say, gaunt physique. Isn't that too skinny? Let me ask Adam Rapoport, style editor for GQ magazine. He's on the line from his office in Manhattan. Welcome, Adam.

Mr. ADAM RAPOPORT (Style Editor, GQ): How are you doing?

KEYES: And I feel like I have to ask: Now, what is it you're wearing?

Mr. RAPOPORT: I am wearing matchstick-fit jeans from Levi's. They're skinny without actually saying skinny jeans.

KEYES: These jeans could fit on one of those models, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAPOPORT: They might be a little loose on one of those mannequins, actually. They're slim without cutting off circulation, I would say.

KEYES: Rootstein describes their new skinny mannequin collection as young and restless, redresses the balance of the prevailing male beefcake figure by carving out a far more streamlined, sinuous silhouette to match the edgier attitude of a new generation. Is a new generation really that small, or are they just wearing clothes that are?

Mr. RAPOPORT: I think they're wearing clothes that are slimmer. I think we unfortunately probably have the same waist sizes we've always had. But, you know, you've seen for the last several years the silhouette - as they say in the fashion business - becoming a lot slimmer: fitted suits, slim jeans, skinny ties. If the '80s and '90s were more of that sort of comfortable Armani suit that is kind of crepe-y and drape-y, now it's all skinny, skinny, skinny, whether you are or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: I remember guys used to walk around in pants that were twice their size, and these baggy shirts.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, yeah.

KEYES: Is that a reaction to this?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Somewhat. Typically in fashion, you know, yeah, the pendulum swings. If everyone's wearing big, baggy jeans, then the cool kids want to be wearing skinny, tight jeans. You know, once everyone is doing something, the elite want to be doing the opposite.

So it swings that way, but what's interesting is how long it takes for the general public to kind of catch on. You know, you were seeing very skinny suits and models that basically look like these mannequins - these very waif-y, thin, teenage-boy mannequins - on the runway when Dior Homme, Christian Dior's men's line was showing about seven, eight years ago when Hedi Slimane was the designer.

And he got a lot of flak at the time for basically bringing out models that were teenage boys with these frail bodies, no hair on their chest, no muscles. And, you know, like I said, that was seven years ago, probably. And now it's kind of catching up more to these big sort of chain stores like Topman and H&M and Uniqlo.

KEYES: Isn't that a little creepy? I mean, if you're...

Mr. RAPOPORT: It is creepy, and especially if you see it - as you're sitting there at the fashion shows, you're like, wow, that kid's, like, 16 years old and hasn't really been eating a lot and certainly hasn't seen the sun in a couple of months.

But, you know, like I said, I think the label - they want to kind of suggest an extreme and then you kind of adapt to part of that extreme. I don't think people are expecting people to be actually this skinny, necessarily, or this young, because if we're not that young, we're not that young.

KEYES: But if you're a 35-year-old guy and you're looking at waif-y guy, are you thinking, okay, I've got to eat a pea a day so that I can fit into those jeans? I think I read somewhere that the largest size some of the newer jeans are coming in is a 33-inch waist. For a grown man? Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAPOPORT: Yeah. Not too many grown men I know. Listen, I think the average grown man is smart enough to know what he can and can't get away with. And, also, yeah. If you have a wife or a girlfriend and you come home with really, really skinny jeans on, she's going to take one look at you and probably send you home.

Now, that said, there is a happy medium. You can wear jeans that are straight leg or slim fit without being super skinny tight like you're in Metallica or something. You can wear suits that actually fit you. And the problem that American men have had for many years is that they're wearing their suits a size or two too big. The shoulders are kind of hanging off. Their pants are too slouchy. They've got the pleated pants that they could fit, you know, two of themselves in.

So it's like, all right, you don't need to go to an extreme. You know you're not 17 years old. You know, if you're a 40-year-old guy, that doesn't mean you can't wear jeans that fit well. You can wear a suit that fits well. So it's like, yeah, look at the extreme, acknowledge that it's an extreme and then kind of approach it without necessarily going all the way.

KEYES: Really briefly, though, I think I've been reading that male eating disorders are on the rise. Is there any connection there, do you think?

Mr. RAPOPORT: You know, that - as a style editor at GQ, I'm not really qualified to speak on that. You know, I have no idea, and I don't know if you're talking teenage boys or if you're talking grown men. But I guess that -to suggest that male vanity is something that's crept up in the 2000s is crazy.

You know, you look at "Saturday Night Fever" with John Travolta and the tight suits and the hairdryers, you look at Cary Grant in the 1950s, men have always been vain. And whether we're wearing tight, bellbottom jeans or, you know, greasing up our hair in the James Dean era, to suggest that all of a sudden now we're concerned with our appearance is pretty naive.

KEYES: That is Adam Rapoport, wearing his matchstick jeans, style editor for GQ magazine. Thanks so much for joining us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAPOPORT: Thank you.

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