Bespoke like Beckham: Can he influence the American man’s style?



By Emily Zeugner

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,” says Daniel Biloett, men’s fashion expert for “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.

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That fondness for sexy clothes contrasts with America’s looser, boxier style, says Biloett. 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).

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 often all about being put together, touting the benefits of facials and manicures, and admits to both shaving his body and highlighting his hair.

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

Even though a wide variety of trend-setters 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,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, chair 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 says. “We accept radical change in women more than we do in men,” Blackman says, 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,” says 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, says 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.

“He just always looks trendy and cool,” says accountant Enda McDonaugh, 34, shopping at a Gap in Manhattan. “Sadly I’m a bit old to pull most of it off myself, but I really admire his style.”

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 non-famous.

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 says, “so people should give American men more credit.”