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The Denim Skinny

Skinny is the word for young men's denim these days, and in the action-sports denim market, teens' shrunken fits could actually be mistaken for body paint.

NEW YORK — Skinny is the word for young men’s denim these days, and in the action-sports denim market, teens’ shrunken fits could actually be mistaken for body paint. 

But after several seasons in the mix, skinny jeans have transcended beyond resourceful skaters stealing their girlfriends’ denim to a more mainstream guy. Action sports brands are cashing in on the extreme silhouette for spring ’08, with more than a handful of labels offering leg openings as slim as 13 inches. 

“It’s really a freak show out there,” says Herb Grignon, head buyer for the Massachusetts-based boardsports chain Eastern Boarder. “We keep thinking that the skinny thing is going to end, but we’re still seeing kids buying the skinniest fits and getting them tailored to be even skinnier.” 

Bobby Goodwin, men’s buyer for the southern California skate chain Active Ride Shops, adds, “Skinny is still really strong. It has not slowed down.” While he’s seen recent increases in other denim styles, Goodwin notes that super-slim cuts make up about 40 percent of his denim sales. “For every guy that has grown out of the super-skinny jeans, there are three kids to replace him.” 

Even in Missoula, Mont., well inland from the bicoastal skate capitals, “the youth brigade is rocking slim jeans,” says Colby Zugg, manager of local young men’s shop Premiere. “I predict a huge spring and summer with my paint-on pants program.” 

Of course, as more teens cram themselves into denim that could hardly hold their diet-happy girlfriends, the more fashion-forward consumer—as well as the guy that isn’t shaped like Mick Jagger—is checking out some of spring’s more directional silhouettes. 

“Spring could be the crescendo of skinny pants,” says Zugg. “Everybody and their dogs are wearing skinny jeans now. It’s certainly not trendsetting. I think we’re going to see things loosen up a little bit, if not this spring, then definitely by next fall.” 

In fact, Analog Clothing’s senior design director, Joey Jorgensen, says he’s tweaking his fall ’08 denim collection to adjust to the brand’s team skaters who are requesting more room in their jeans.

“Guys are wearing their jeans so tight, and it’s just not a comfortable thing,” he says. “The really skinny constrictor thing is fazing out. Once something becomes mainstream, the influencers are on to the next thing.” 

The Irvine, Calif.–based label plans to introduce a hybrid fit that balances relaxed and skinny silhouettes. “It’s roomy enough up top in the waist, legs and thighs, but tapers to a skinny fit around the ankles, so guys can still show off their sneakers,” adds Jorgensen. 

Australian brand Insight has also seen success with its Slouch Exhaust fit, which has a slouchy low rise and a tapered narrow leg. Robbie Owens-Russo, Insight’s head men’s wear designer, calls the fit “rad,” but acknowledges that skinny fits still own the market, even for a brand often looked to as directional in the action sports industry. “The majority of kids are still getting their heads around [the skinny fit]—or should I say thighs? It will stay in everyone’s wardrobe, even when the next fit hits.” 

Ambiguous, which has set itself apart with an extreme 12-inch leg opening, called the Twig fit, is also playing with innovative silhouettes. For spring, the Irvine-based brand will launch a Skinny Dart style, which features a longer rise, looser seat, and tapered skinny knee and leg opening. 

Meanwhile, for skate customers that are “growing up or filling out,” a regular or relaxed silhouette is more fitting, says Active’s Goodwin, and thankfully now becoming more widely available.

Matix, based in Torrance, Calif., is often touted for its less constricting denim options. “The market, saleswise, has been steering away from skinny skinny,” says the brand’s creative director, Mike Gomez. “Now slim and straight-leg are booking well for us.” Gomez notes the men’s market certainly isn’t returning to a baggy phase, which he calls “cumbersome to skate in,” but Matix’s Gripper slim fit, and its Miner straight-leg, both with a 17.5-inch leg opening, “seem to be a happy medium that the kids can wear comfortably, yet keeps them looking fresh.” 

New York City–based Zoo York also fills the non-skinny void, citing its Stylus denim as its biggest mover in volume. Chris San Juan, Zoo York’s vice-president of design and merchandising, describes the fit as “loose straight,” with a 47-inch seat, 26.5-inch thigh and 18.5-inch leg opening. “On the East Coast we have more of an urban customer, who has a street vibe,” explains San Juan. “He’s not really comfortable wearing slim-fit denim. Not everyone can—or should—do skinny.” 

Eastern Boarder’s Grignon is excited about seeing traditional silhouettes—including Levi’s 501s—on some of his more pioneering customers. “I’m hoping that we’ll see some more normal fits when we shop for fall,” he says. “You know how sometimes you look back at something and say ‘What was I thinking?’ I think that’s going to happen with skinny jeans.”