'Dandy' generation let their threads call the shots

A seismic shift in men's attitudes has sparked a return to the days of the 'dandy' as a new generation of young men embrace super slim-line designs.

In fashion trends that borrow heavily from Beau Brummell's reign in the wardrobes of Regency England monarchs, elaborate, tailored clothing for men is officially back in style.

Younger guys are looking far more dandyish than my generation did . . . kids of 21, 22, have a sort of androgyny to them.

We are seeing grooms trim down for their big day - not to be buff and slender for his new wife's wedding-night pleasure - but in order to shoehorn their portly mass into a pricey bundle of finely cut Hugo Boss fabric.

Now, rather than insisting that our garments fit around our ballooning physiques as we have in the past, it seems we're letting the threads call the shots when it comes to body shape. Our clothes are getting smaller, and it's mortifying. We'll soon have to apply our trousers with a brush that's been dipped in a pot of black liquid denim; casual shorts are starting to look like AFL-style nutcrackers.

So what has caused this terrifying sartorial sea change? "As with any fashion trend, we've been here before," says Michael Pickering, editor of Men's Style magazine. "Look at photos of the Ramones, or Travolta's silhouette-enhancing three-piece suit in Saturday Night Fever. Designers will always look backwards for inspiration, then rehash, recycle, repurpose, but with a modern twist."

Paula McMahon, head designer at Aussie menswear label Politix, agrees. "Fashion comes in cycles, so it's inevitable things have trimmed down," she says. "Also, designers want their work to be talked about - it has to be 'out there'."

So how do brands ensure that really "out there" clothes (I'm thinking of those shorts again) catch on? "Agreed, the 'bloke' of yesteryear wouldn't have been seen in those," says McMahon, "but things change. Once brands and designers began advertising to the gay market, the alpha male started thinking, 'Well, gee, those guys look pretty good. Why shouldn't I look that good?'"

But there are greater forces at work than mere fashion swings: we're talking about a redefining of masculinity. "Younger guys are looking far more dandyish than my generation did," says Pickering. "Kids of 21, 22, have a sort of androgyny to them."

"Men are into looking good in every respect," adds McMahon. "If guys are working out, they want to show off the results. It's not about 'metrosexualism' - they're still alpha males - it's a straightforward Friday-night, boy-meets-girl thing."

This, says McMahon, raises the bar in the arena of courtship, which, in turn, perpetuates the trend. "Girls are getting a bit fussier," she says. "Twenty years ago, they put up with a bloke; now they want a man."

What we have, then, is a snowball effect: styles change, clothes get smaller, men take to the trimmer look, tailor their bodies accordingly and have more success with women, and designers continue to cater to their new wishes. Making matters worse, it seems that labels are even messing with our heads when it comes to sizes. "Designers are sizing lines for models who wear them on the runway, rather than Joe Average on the street," says Pickering.

No wonder we're starting to feel the kind of body-image pressure women have endured for decades - with potentially grave consequences, according to Pickering. "There's anecdotal evidence that the new trends are causing angst and behavioural problems in terms of eating and so on, or steroid use in the case of men trying to build up," he says. However, he points out that this could be down to a bigger cultural tidal change, of which fashion is only a contributing stream.

But it's not all bad news for the once sartorially dormant sex. Happily, being a little older is no obstacle for men who want to embrace minimalist chic. "There's no age limit if you know how to do it properly," says McMahon. "Johnny Depp can wear skinny jeans with a sports coat and trilby."

Also, our very maleness isn't at stake here (unless you're David Beckham). "Look at Hugh Jackman or Brad Pitt," says McMahon. "They have their own style, they're into fashion, but are they effeminate? No, they're just inventive alpha males who know how to put it together. As for Beckham, I think he's just been hanging around with Posh too much..."

And besides, as with casual workplace sexism, excessive boozing and marital negligence, men have got off lightly for so long. Slim and trim are here to stay - for now. It's time to measure up.

Thanks a bunch, social progress.