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Menswear Embraces Its Feminine Side



Vivid colors like turquoise, floral prints, and pattern mixing are the latest trends—for guys. So are lapel flowers, scarves, and bracelets. And don't call them "murses," but more dudes are toting their headphones, iPads and lip balm in soft-sided bags that share attributes with purses.

As objectionable as this may sound to many men weaned on khakis and blue shirts, menswear is getting more feminine.

Luxury giant LVMH last fall took a stake in J.W. Anderson, a promising British label whose designer has been creating ruffly blouses, plunging scoop necklines and chic skirts—for men. Singer/songwriter Frank Ocean wore Prada's version of the man's ruffly blouse to an afterparty for the Met Ball this spring. Men are flashing skin in ways once reserved for the fairer sex: Recording artist Kid Cudi performed at Coachella this spring in a belly-baring crop top and shorts.

All this poses a new challenge to retailers. Many young men are gobbling up the newly colorful looks and accessories. But older men require some hand-holding as they tiptoe toward the deep water of, say, a pair of lavender chinos.

Keith Carlisle, men's merchandise manager at Stanley Korshak, a high-end store in Dallas, views the new colors as manna from heaven, since many clients already have a closet full of navy blue and tan. "If I don't show them something they don't already own, they have no reason to shop," he says.
But aqua-colored slacks can make a man skittish.

Androgyny once referred to women wearing man styles, but these days, men's clothes are getting androgynous–that is, much more feminine. On Style columnist Christina Binkley discusses how men are getting more adventurous with their clothes on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. 

So when a customer comes in with jeans in mind, Mr. Carlisle leads him to an array of five-pocket twill pants that the store currently carries in turquoise, peach, lavender, red and orange. Ready to be paired with them is an array of shirts in aqua, pink, rose and lavender.

If the customer hems and haws, he presses forward, promising, "Buy them. If you don't get a compliment on the first day you wear them, you can bring them back." He says he's never gotten a pair back. "Women will always compliment them," Mr. Carlisle says. "And now men are starting to compliment other men on what they're wearing."

Accessories such as cuff links are also gaining importance for men. "Suddenly we have a bracelets business," says Mr. Carlisle.

Generations of men who came of age in this century, when Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, and then Thom Browne revolutionized men's fashions with closer fits and dapper tailoring, grew up with a heightened sense of style that isn't sated by racks of beige and gray. New fashion brands are being launched to cater to them. Fast-expanding Bonobos sells close-fitting slacks and shirts in a rainbow of girlish colors and prints. Hook & Albert focuses on accessories and helped invent a new one—the lapel flower, a decoration made of fabric or leather for a buttonhole.

"Flowers are crazy," says co-founder Cory Rosenberg, who suggests that retailers place lapel flowers on sales associates and mannequins rather than leaving them in bowls by the cash register, because uninitiated men need to see them modeled.

Mr. Rosenberg is a former investment banker who—straitjacketed by office styles—decided to launch the company a few years ago with an old friend, Adam Schoenberg. The idea was to serve up the sort of stylish goodies that his wife takes for granted. "I'm so jealous of my wife," Mr. Rosenberg said recently. "Our goal is to take what women have for accessories and give it to men."

Hook & Albert now sells a growing array of zany socks, pocket hankies, shoe accessories such as colorful tassels and laces, leather watch bands, bags and dopp kits. One popular Hook & Albert accessory is loafer liners—thin anklets that can be worn for a no-socks look. "This is effeminate, but I'm telling you, my feet are comfortable," he says.

Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont, founded in 1993, is sensing a seismic shift as it sells out of ties that would once have been intimidating to many men outside preppy circles. Pink, lavender, and yellow bow ties have been hot sellers of late.

David Mutter, Beau Ties co-president and chief executive, says men are drawing their own tie designs on paper and sending them in to be custom-made. Beau Ties, he says, will have more new ties this year than ever before.

Bringing new meaning to androgyny, a unisex label called Baja East was launched by two former luxury-label salesmen from Celine and Lanvin. Baja East makes luxury pants, tops, and caftans that are made to go both ways, a versatility that the label refers to as "ambisex" clothing. The target male client may wear suits to the office, but he also does business at his weekend place in Malibu or the Hamptons, where he needs a luxurious casual wardrobe of caftans and double-face cashmere hoodies.

Few men will wear the skirt, concedes co-founder Scott Studenberg. "But our tunic they buy for their trip to Marrakesh," he says, "could be their first step in that direction."

Write to Christina Binkley at christina.binkley@wsj.com

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