There’s a scene in the movie Closer in which Clive Owen emerges from the bedroom of his London loft with his shirt tucked/untucked just so. It stands out as a hyper-stylized flourish in a movie that’s pretty heavily art-directed to begin with. Maybe Owen, in a moment of actorly inspiration, took it upon himself to adjust his own tuckage, or maybe (more likely) the wardrobe team fussed over it endlessly. Either way, that faux tuck is meant to telegraph just the right amount of slapped-together disarray—but the disarray, alas, reads as all too engineered.
At least Owen had his reasons, not the least of which was the distracting on-set presence of both Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman. So what’s everyone else’s excuse? On Sunset Boulevard in L.A. recently, I realized that every guy in sight was engaged in some kind of in-between tuck maneuver. Back home in Brooklyn, same thing: faux tucks everywhere. I guess the impetus behind the fad is that no guy wants to look like a tool, with the old, quasi-militaristic, high-waisted full tuck. Then again, leaving the shirt entirely untucked has become the Young Man of Today’s sartorial cliché (the New York Times deconstructed the phenomenon a year ago, which suggests it’s beyond passé). So, not wanting to dress like either Gomer Pyle or untucked addict Carson Daly, guys opt for the semi-tuck. (Just check out this month’s cover boy.) But then it gets complicated: Just a few inches of tuck around the belt buckle? Or most of the front but none of the back? How does one manage the bunching transition at the sides? And are there varying standards of semi-tuckage for dress shirts and T-shirts? Before you know it, you’re thinking too damn much about the intersection of your shirt and your pants.
Those guys who think their faux tuck is the height of slacker street casual should know that the look actually originated on the runway. Back in 1991, Stephany Greene, who teaches a course on fashion trends at Miami International University of Art & Design, was an assistant designer at Calvin Klein tasked with dressing models for the shows. “We were instructed to tuck in just the front of the shirt—even sweaters—and then, of course, let the back fall out,” she says. “It was, like, the coolest thing. What’s amazing is that it’s taken 15 years for it to become something that guys do naturally.”
Hollywood designer Marco Morante did some styling for the most recent season of American Idol, where, he says, “this dilemma ran rampant.” He believes the faux tuck would have evolved without Calvin, as men recognized “the mushroom-cap effect created by a 360-degree shirt tuck.”
But when you think about it, is there anything more unflattering than this neither-here-nor-there, can’t-commit mode? Besides, what’s next? Pulling your arm through only one sleeve of your shirt? Putting on just one sock each morning?