In the confounding world of mainstream menswear, certain things are, to adopt entertainment industry parlance, critic-proof. Oversized cargo shorts, flip-flops worn in cities, retro football shirts worn as nightwear; no matter how much fashion experts scorn, they continue to be worn by men. But few things inspire the same heedless devotion as skinny jeans.
Snug, tapered and often lightly mauled, ultra-skinny jeans found a second wind after becoming the unofficial uniform of male contestants on Love Island. And it’s that link to the denizens of ITV2’s summer phenomenon – who, of course, were unfailingly gym-sculpted – that cuts to the core of their appeal. In short: wide-legged Japanese selvedge isn’t going to allow strangers to appreciate the size of your calfs.
Blame, if you will, Instagram, too, for this recent conversion. #Legday (denoting the day that you focus on working your legs) has become a popular hashtag on the image-sharing app; save wearing shorts – ultra-skinny jeans have become the best way to show off your quads.
Fashion is reflecting this – sales are now up at Topshop, Asos and even Selfridges. “I was trying to find a good pair of skinny jeans and they didn’t exist anywhere on the market for men,” says Ash White, founder of Hera – the brand that launched two years ago and has popularised the spray-on look. “I found myself having to buy girl’s skinny jeans for ages and couldn’t fathom why these big brands wouldn’t do it.” Now 25, the former phone-shop worker’s company is set to turn over £10m in sales by the end of the year.
That mention of women’s denim isn’t insignificant. For all the thrusting, laddy masculinity of the Geordie Shore and Love Island stars who proudly wear Hera, White thinks the look has its roots in a kind of gender play. “It’s very feminine,” he says. “I remember the fashion a good three or four years ago was girls wearing skintight jeans, rolled-up with Nike trainers. It just looked so cool. And I wanted to wear it.”
White also acknowledges that soft, super-stretchy jeans are particularly popular with those who never skip leg day (“I’ve got a few bodybuilding influencers”) but, interestingly, he theorises that this is mainly about practicality rather than a desire to show off hulking pins. “[Guys] with massive legs can’t actually fit into stiff denim,” he reasons. The ever-broadening average British man (and new sub labels such as Asos Plus) support this theory.
Still, sparked by the look’s prominence in a certain Mallorcan reality TV villa, there have been loud detractors – a scathing Esquire column branded the jeans “denim sausage casings”. Will these neo-jeggings fade away one day? “Not any time soon,” sniffs White, confidently.
Not that this is a fashion choice without a downside, says White. “Taking them off can be a bit hard, especially around the ankles.”