SIX MONTHS AGO Justin Benson, 38, purchased a pair of boots in faux-snakeskin with cream-and-black scales. These slithery numbers joined other items with a whiff of debauchery in his wardrobe: a prowl of silky animal-print shirts (tiger, leopard); crocodile-embossed-leather loafers; and olive-green leather pants from the in-house line of Swedish store Very Good. Mr. Benson, a marketing director in Edmonton, Alberta, started emulating 1970s rock stars and “Boogie Nights” extras because he likes not just the look but the sensual feel of these finds. Whether rendered in “buttery” lambskin, slippery silk or “tough” snakeskin, they stimulate the senses in ways the cotton sweats of the WFH era cannot. Plus, he says, he’s found this high-octane style “very fun” to embrace.
Mr. Benson has plenty to choose from: A ’70s disco-meets-glam-rock look is permeating men’s fashion like clouds of Marlboro smoke wafting across the dance floor at Xenon, the even sleazier rival to Studio 54. Brands like Gucci, Celine and Japan’s Kapital are tempting post-WFH hedonists with flared pants, beastly prints and slinky silk shirts that seemingly refuse to be buttoned. The louche look has infiltrated pop culture, too: See HBO’s “Minx,” a show about erotic magazine publishing in the ’70s, and R&B duo Silk Sonic’s Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, who perform in loud satin tailoring and disco shirts with almost letally pointed collars.
Among the trend’s most sought-after indulgences: those Très Bien leather pants, which come in black, cherry-red and the olive Mr. Benson loves. Very Good co-founder Hannes Hogeman said the trousers sell out immediately every time he gets them in. At Casablanca, the Parisian brand whose florid silk shirts helped jump-start high-sleaze style, year-over-year sales doubled in 2021.
The sleaze-fashion look speaks to some men’s increasing comfort with embracing androgyny in a Mick Jagger sort of way. Leather pants and stacked-heel boots are both camp and “so macho,” said Noah Zagor, senior menswear editor at trend forecasting company WGSN. His theory: The style is a backlash to highly practical but blah trends, such as minimalism and, especially, comfort WFH dressing. “For guys who like [clothes] and were locked inside for so long, it’s an opportunity to turn up the volume,” said Mr. Zagor.
Justin Ryan Kim, a 28-year-old creative director at e-commerce platform Shopify in New York, views it as a way to “add seasoning” to his outfits. Mr. Kim, who has tan leather pants, a dazzle of patterned silk shirts and more big-cat spots in his closet than you’d find in Kruger National Park, said these pieces let him wake up his style while sticking to his favored silhouettes . “There are only so many pairs of jeans you can have before you realize they all look the same,” he said. “A cheetah print jacket…allows you to have something different.”
Even so, the line between sleazy-sexy and sleazy-gross is thinner than Brian May’s guitar pick. To ensure you’re on the right side of rakish, New York stylist Taylor Okata advises exercising restraint…up to a point. With silk shirts and leather pants, he said, choose a cut similar to that of your regular button-downs and jeans. The textile or print is daring enough; if you go baggy or, worse, cling-film tight, you risk ridiculous. Mr. Hogeman argues that Très Bien’s leather pants, which are based on a pair of Levi’s 501s, sidestep this danger.
If you view the porn publisher in “Minx” as a cautionary tale, Mr. Okata directs you to this time-honored advice: Introduce just one swanky item into your outfit instead of hammering the look “from head-to-toe.” Naoki Hamano, buyer at New York menswear store Blue in Green, recommends dimming flashy pieces by pairing them with simple denim, while Mr. Hogeman likes taming Très Bien’s leather pants with sportier wares like an Arc’teryx parka and New Balance sneakers.
Such an ensemble, said Mr. Hogeman, toys with high-low contrasts—and people’s expectations. From his point of view, “It should be a little bit of a surprise when you stand up from the table,” he said—and, ideally, elicit a twinge of jealousy.
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