Clothing brands have been smuggling spandex onto the legs of unsuspecting men.
“I definitely didn’t explicitly understand what I was buying,” Austin Ray, a 36-year-old writer in Atlanta, told me. What he was buying were Gap Soft Wear Jeans in Straight Fit with GapFlex, which is a nine-word phrase to describe a two-word trend: stretch jeans. “Apparently I didn’t think too hard about what those words meant,” he said.
My friend David Covucci, a 34-year-old Brooklyn editor, also didn’t understand exactly what he was getting into when he picked a pair of Banana Republic Rapid Movement Denim jeans off a clearance rack, but the pants immediately felt different to him. “I knew something was up, but I didn’t Google until I got home,” he said.
If you wear women’s clothing, it might come as a surprise that a little bit of stretch is a relatively new concept for most men. Stretchy jeans have been common in women’s fashion for at least 20 years, but they’ve only found traction in the men’s mass market in the past five. Now nearly every major menswear brand offers at least one stretch option, and many go beyond the product’s tight-fit reputation with looser cuts.
To sell these jeans to men, though, brands face a conundrum common in the fashion and personal-care industries: How do you convince guys to buy something they believe is for women? In the case of stretch denim, brands have found success by obfuscating what their product actually is, allowing them to recast stretch pants as a tool of masculinity. Whether it’s GapFlex, Rapid Movement Denim, Wrangler’s Advanced Comfort, or just not mentioning the new fabrication at all, the theory seems to be that what men don’t know about their jeans can’t hurt them. Intentionally or not, these branding decisions have helped change the modern idea of what it means to look like a man.