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Man cleavage -- plunging necklines slit open to reveal chest hair, pectoral muscles, maybe more -- is back. Until recently, male décolletage was an androgynous fashion affectation limited mainly to sporadic appearances on European runways. But the look, including deep V-necks and scoop-neck tops, hit the U.S. in full force at New York's September Fashion Week, turning up at shows by Duckie Brown, Michael Bastian and Yigal Azrouël.
This time around, the styles were more blatantly sexual and the models had a more studly swagger. New York designer Mr. Bastian said his show's vibe was inspired in part by "Latin guys" he noticed wearing their shirts unbuttoned, as well as the unabashed machismo of Latin American men in general. "We wanted to go back to a more natural body, a more '70s body with the models, getting away from the super skinny," says Mr. Bastian. Plenty of men, from regular Joes to "Dancing With the Stars" contestants, have loosened to the trend.
"Harper's Bazaar's Stephen Gan is working the new male cleavage in a low-cut T-shirt; it's called 'heavage,'" tweeted Hilary Alexander, fashion director of Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, in early October while at a runway show in Paris. Mr. Gan, who, aptly enough, is also the editor of a magazine called "V," says, "I think I'm allowed to dress this way."
Male cleavage, particularly on the silver screen, has long played a prominent role in popular culture. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had his chest on display throughout the 1920s in films like 1924's "The Thief of Bagdad" and "The Iron Mask" in 1929. A dashing Errol Flynn showed man cleavage in the 1930s, most memorably in 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood." These actors made skin-flashing practically de rigueur for certain swashbuckling roles. The aesthetic continued well into the 1950s and the 1960s, says menswear historian Robert Bryan, author of the new book "American Fashion Menswear." Among those celebrated for their heavage were Marlon Brando (in the 1951 film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire") and Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1960s.