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Mumbai: Indian women may take a bit of convincing, but there seems to be strong evidence to suggest that their urban male compatriots are getting fitter. Or, at the very least, they’re squeezing themselves into closer-fitting shirts, regardless of muscle tone or the lack thereof. While the picture this conveys may not be entirely wholesome, it does mean that companies have had to change the kind of fits they offer on shirt racks.

More seriously, the slim, super-slim and skinny fits that are gaining ground among the young urban male demographic are cut to accentuate narrow waistlines, broad shoulders and well-toned bodies.

Take Tejas Rane, a trim 28-year-old information technology professional, who hits the gym at least thrice a week and avoids fried food and carbonated drinks.

Vital stats: A customer checks out shirts at an Allen Solly store in Mumbai. Shirt sizes 39 and 40 have become the most popular for the retailer. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

While shopping for shirts, Rane usually tries on a number of different sizes and fits and buys what suits him best.

This is in contrast to his college days when he didn’t spend so much time trying and buying clothes. “I used to wear just about anything," he says.

A young workforce, coupled with health and fitness becoming a way of life, has seen rising sales for slim and super-slim fits, according to experts and the trade.

Raymond, an 87-year-old menswear brand, introduced slim fits three years ago and super-slim fits last year.

About two inches narrower in width than the regular fit, they now account for “60-75% of the overall (Raymond) business", says Shreyas Joshi, president (group apparel) at Raymond Ltd, which has brands such as Raymond, Park Avenue, Parx and Notting Hill.

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A new generation of young male consumers doesn’t seem to mind agonizing over choices when buying fashionably tight-fitting clothes.

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Likewise, at Allen Solly, size 40 and 42 regulars used to be the most popular shirt sizes, accounting for 70-80% of overall sales until a few years ago. That has changed to size 39 and 40, which have become the “most popular sizes" for the retailer, says Sooraj Bhat, brand head (Allen Solly) and chief operating officer at Madura Fashion and Lifestyle, a division of Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd, which also has brands such as Van Heusen and Peter England, besides selling Esprit in India.

According to Joshi, the “good response" to the new fits reflects the “changing Indian consumer, who is more health conscious and fit".

This expansion is also a reflection of the increase in the number of brands and awareness on the part of consumers, besides the availability of a wider range of styles and sizes to suit people.

For instance, concomitant with one segment of the population becoming super-slim, at the other end of the spectrum, a plethora of brands are offering a wide range of plus-size clothing off the rack.

The number of international brands in India trebled to 150 in 2008 from 50 in 2004, and there are now more 200 present in the country, says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at Third Eyesight, a retail consulting firm.

With the growing attention to grooming and getting the right size, most men are no longer speed-shopping.

A male customer at the Van Heusen store in Mumbai’s upscale Phoenix Mall tries on three-four sizes and fits before deciding which shirt to buy.

The brand introduced the skinny fit last year, an inch narrower than the slim fit. “Consumers are experimenting with their look and are now becoming more aware of their size," says the store manager, who’s seen a change over the last five years he’s been at the job. He didn’t want to be named.

Moreover, “consumers are also eager to receive information about styling, fabrics and colours to create customized looks", says Amit Singh, store manager at the Raymond Shop on Warden Road in south Mumbai.

The change in style also reflects, “the aspiration of a younger country and a younger workforce (that) values looking good", says Bhat of Allen Solly.

“Retail has evolved along with our lifestyle," says fashion designer Nachiket Barve, while pointing to the evolution of the Indian male style from baggy shirts, high-waist jeans and mostly tailored clothes to shopping for ready-made garments.

“Urban Indians are becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that diet and lifestyle changes are beginning to take a toll on their health," says Perpetua Machado, principal of Nirmala Niketan College of Home Science, which offers courses in health and nutrition. “The impact of this is apparent in the increasing number of urban Indians, who are now enrolling in gyms, yoga classes and opting for healthier food options."

This is being reflected in diets as well, with urban Indians cutting down on polished rice and replacing it with the hand-pounded variety.

Likewise, the consumption of maida (refined flour) products has decreased in favour of chapattis made of unrefined atta, says Hemalatha R., deputy director and scientist at Union health and family welfare ministry.

This is a trend that’s also being taken advantage of by brands such as Dabur India Ltd’s Real juice, revenue from which has risen 25-30% year-on-year and which is now a 500 crore brand. Similarly, Marico Ltd’s Saffola Oats is growing 40% annually.

“Health, wellness, food and fitness categories are all growing," says Abneesh Roy, associate director, institutional equities, research, at brokerage Edelweiss Securities Ltd.

sapna.a@livemint.com

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