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The Uggs factor

Men aren’t likely to buy Tom Brady’s new footwear, but wives and girlfriends might

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / December 9, 2010

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For a solid week, it looked as if fashion Armageddon was raining down upon Boston. Tom Brady, the man who has the city in the palm of one hand, and a supermodel in the palm of the other, announced that he would be slipping into a pair of woolly Uggs and acting as spokesjock for the frequently derided Australian footwear company. It’s a genius move on the part of the boot maker. For years, Uggs has looked to young women to buy its bulky suede boots. But now that the Kardashian sisters are no longer showing up in paparazzi shots wearing miniskirts and Uggs, it’s time for the company to find a new market. Why not men?

It makes perfect sense. Uggs were first sold to surfers in Australia — surfer dudes, to be specific — who enjoyed the deconstructed boot as an easy and warm way to cover their feet after a day in the surf. They were designed with both sexes in mind, though we’ve come to equate them mostly with women.

But all of this is completely and utterly moot. The simple fact of the matter is that men do not emulate celebrities or follow trends the same way that women do. When Brady appears in his first advertisement for Uggs, or is snapped wearing the boots walking around New York, men will not stream out in droves to snatch up Uggs.

“I think the men who are watching him really only care about his performance on the field,’’ says wardrobe consultant and New York University sociology professor Anna Akbari. “And the women who are watching care about the fact that he’s still looking good. Even if he’s wearing Uggs, it’s not going to change the fact that he’s a good athlete, or that he’s attractive. Look at other celebrities and athletes with endorsements for fragrances or underwear. No one has ever said, ‘This is compromising them.’ ’’

In short, the ugliness over Uggs is much ado about nothing.

All this fall, Boston, or, more specifically, Boston’s media outlets — present company included — have been utterly obsessed with Brady’s hair. This coiffure, we’ll call it the Tommy Boy, has been compared endlessly with teen idol Justin Bieber’s. It got to the point where the National Enquirer started speculating if Brady was growing his hair to cover baldness. But you’ll notice that Brady’s ’do has not caught on among sports fans in Boston. Again, men do not follow trends the same way that ladies do.

“Most men make their purchases based on need or lifestyle,’’ says men’s style expert Tom Julian. “They’ll buy for work or the weekend. A lot of men are still getting guidance from the women in their lives.’’

In other words, most gents are not looking to sports stars, actors, and especially not the runways of Milan for fashion inspiration. Despite this fact, we are still inundated with similar sky-is-falling declarations around men’s fashion. For example:

Winter 2007: At the Marni Men’s show in Milan, male models flit down the runway in leggings. Cue the headlines: “Leggings are the new must-have for men.’’ That is an actual headline, but leggings for men did not fly off store shelves and, with the exception of Conan O’Brien, men showed little interest.

Fall 2009: Cave man alert! Fur for men is all over the runways of Paris. Designer John Galliano shows hairy pants. Thierry Mugler debuts a piece referred to as “the Cousin Itt jacket.’’ Trend never arrives in the US.

Spring 2001: Menswear designer Thom Brown revolutionizes men’s fashion by cropping pant lengths and shortening suit sleeves. He goes on to create a series of lines dressing men in ill-proportioned ensembles. Office workers continue wearing conventional suits.

Spring 1985: Jean-Paul Gaultier introduces the man-skirt! Despite America’s short-lived love affair with Boy George and androgyny, the man-skirt fails to find a following among men — with the exception of designer Marc Jacobs.

All of these examples are far more ridiculous than Brady in Uggs, but they do demonstrate the unfounded hysteria when a guy does something remotely feminine, such as grow his hair out or wear boots associated with women. Even if you see Brady strutting down Newbury Street in a pair of Uggs, flipping his luscious chestnut locks like Marlo Thomas in an episode of “That Girl,’’ the world will not stop spinning. The man can still throw a football like a champ, and that’s all that matters. But be warned guys, there is a small chance the Brady factor may help push Uggs into new territory.

“I think there is some level of influence, even if it is subliminal,’’ says Brian Boye, fashion director of Men’s Health. “We also can’t forget that a lot of women buy clothes for men. I don’t think men will run and buy a pair of sheepskin boots if Tom Brady is in the ad, but I think they might be more willing to try it if their wife puts it under the tree.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.