Beckham brings flair for fashion to America

Sunday, July 22, 2007
Soccer player David Beckham left an October news conference at the Real Madrid's training ground in Madrid, Spain. Beckham, who is know for his flair for fashion as well as his on-field abilities, could influence American men to try some new things when it comes to clothes.

David Beckham: international soccer star, heartthrob, designer clothes horse and European fashion icon.

But does he have what it takes to influence the looks of that notoriously stodgy species known as the American man? For the brave few, maybe.

For the others, maybe he can give them what he is best known for -- a good kick -- to at least try some new things that could take them out of the baggy pants-big shirt rut, men's fashion experts say.

"Beckham's here to show us not to be scared," said Daniel Biloett, men's fashion expert for About.com. "It's OK to look this great."

Beckham, now No. 23 for the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, has made his name in fashion by becoming a kind of chameleon, trying on hairstyles, trends and designers to suit each passing whim. He has cultivated an eclectic style, wearing everything from tight Armani suits to deconstructed jeans to flashy rhinestone-encrusted tracksuits.

British soccer player David Beckham gets out of a car on arrival at a hotel in Madrid, Spain, July 1, 2003. (AP File Photo/Ruben Mondelo)

That fondness for sexy clothes contrasts with America's looser, boxier style, Biloett said. Beckham wears body-conscious pants and shirts unbuttoned to the navel, things many American men, who are more "nervous about their heterosexuality," would reject on principle. (Maybe they should look to his marriage with the coolly beautiful Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, and a fashion icon herself, if they want reassurance that, yes, many women do like this look).

But the strength of Beckham's influence in America is debated among local retail clothing store employees.

"I don't think his impact is going to be as big on the American guy as his wife's impact is going to be on the American woman," said Glenn Stellhorn, a store manager at Steve and Barry's in the West Park Mall.

Steve and Barry's carries basic articles of clothing for men. "More of a casual crowd instead of a nightclub crowd," Stellhorn said. He said the type of guy who would model his look after the glossy soccer star are not going to get their materials from there.

The more fashion sensitive might head to Hollister, where tight T-shirts and ripped or acid washed jeans are big sellers for the men's section.

"He's hot," said Lindsey Kemp, an employee at Hollister in the West Park Mall. "Guys want to be hot, too, I guess."

Kemp said Beckham may be a viable role model for fashion-conscious American males who are fearful of looking too put together because he is an athlete.

"It's a guy who's still masculine and looked up [to]," she said.

Most men here, even stylish ones, like their pants three sizes too big and their shirts big and billowy, he says. American males are eager to be comfortable and to appear laid-back. "If you look too put together, you appear persnickety," he says.

But Beckham is all about being put together, touting the benefits of facials and manicures, and adadmits to shaving his body and highlighting his hair.

Then there is his willingness to take on many different looks.

Even though a variety of trendsetters offer different kinds of looks today -- Jay-Z's hip-hop cool; the sporty clean-cut look of Tom Brady; the rakish style of Daniel Craig -- those guys usually pick one look and stick to it.

"Stylists create an individual look, and it's marketed that way," said Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of the menswear design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Beckham's free-spirited, experimental approach could give men permission to try on different styles, Blackman said. "We accept radical change in women more than we do in men," Blackman said, pointing to Madonna or Jane Fonda's constant reinvention. But "the people handling him might steer him toward just one look because that's what we understand."

Of course, experimentation means at least occasional failure.

"The jury's still out in terms of his taste level," said Wendell Brown, senior fashion editor at Esquire magazine.

Fans were skeptical when Beckham started wearing giant diamond earrings. Photographers winced when he grew his hair into a mullet. And the public recoiled in horror when he paired velour tracksuits with pink-polished fingernails.

There's a chance that truly out-there styles will be especially off-putting for American men, said David Kornberg, senior vice president of men's merchandising for Express. Men's fashion operates differently than women's, he says. Above all, men's clothes have to be "masculine and applicable to a man's life," he says -- not runway-style shocking.

But even Beckham's ill-conceived style choices have had an influence in Europe: His bleach blond fauxhawk inspired a generation of British schoolchildren, and his short-lived penchant for shaving off half an eyebrow almost caught on.

Most of the time, Beckham's look is wearable and contemporary. Regular guys can envision themselves in the types of graphic T-shirts and blazers Beckham wears around town, Kornberg says. The Jean Paul Gaultier sarong Beckham sported on a beach vacation is "less understandable" to the nonfamous.

Still, his status as a top athlete and paparazzi pet could help him disseminate a kind of European chic and a sensibility about fashion to the more inhibited men of America, he says.

"Plenty of young, straight, girl-crazy men think nothing of getting pedicures," Brown said, "so people should give American men more credit."

Staff writer Chris Harris contributed to this report.

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