FOCUS: MEN’S APPAREL

international male With its flurry of icons and photos of buff male models wearing next to nothing, there’s no mistaking that you’ve arrived on the Website of International Male, the catalog of sassy, body-conscious men’s apparel.

The mantra for the Website workers at International Male must be “have fun.” When you click on “shoes,” for example, a moving “conveyor” simulates a runway effect. To view a wide selection of men’s dress shoes, you can move this runway to the left or to the right simply by moving your mouse accordingly. And the site manages to get the user involved in many aspects. By clicking on the “So you wanna be a male model” icon, you can find out how you can become an International Male model.

Navigation is simple, with pull-down menus along the side that let you choose from subcategories within the product categories. For instance, a click on the “underwear” icon gives the customer multiple choices, including “thong,” “buns,” and “boxer.” Icons serve as navigation tools too: When I click on a picture of leather pants (hey, the Cybercritic likes to be fabulous too), I’m presented with a bevy of photos featuring several brooding, leather-clad models. And the product names, such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “Tough Guy,” and the Cybercritic’s favorite, “Fire Island” (for a pair of leather pants), establish a provocative mood.

Not surprisingly for this somewhat racy men’s apparel site, International Male’s privacy policy is quite exhaustive and extensive. Icons for the policy, which promises that the company will not share information with other marketers, appear on every page of the site.

And not only does International Male inform the user about the secure socket layer (SSL) connections, the site gives customers a URL address to dismantle the cookies, so host systems can’t distinguish where the user has been surfing.

FOCUS: MEN’S APPAREL

brooks brothers As one might expect from a clothier to the blue-blooded, Brooks Brothers’ site has none of the gimmickry of, say, International Male. Even online, the 181-year-old retailer means serious business.

Brooks Brothers’ familiar blue cursive logo is clearly emblazoned across the home page, and all the navigational links are elegantly arranged across the top. As befits a fine haberdashery, Brooks Brothers helps guide the buyer to selected items, and the shirts, suits, and other apparel appear to be top-notch.

Won over by the benefit-driven description of a three-button blazer (“Our pure stretch wool separates are USA-made in an exclusive wrinkle-resistant fabric with fibers that breathe.”), I want to see if the jacket would match a tie I recently bought from the Brooks Brothers print catalog. But waiting for an enlarged photo to download takes more time than the Cybercritic is willing to wait – and when I nonetheless try to order the jacket I’m informed that it isn’t even in-stock.

But the Cybercritic’s desire to be natty prevails. When I do order a fine men’s Egyptian Cotton BroadCloth monogrammed dress shirt, the order process goes smoothly.

The Cybercritic has a final gripe: One link on the navigation bar reads, “About Brooks.” Brooks? Brooks is a national drugstore chain, not an upscale men’s clothier!

FOCUS: MEN’S APPAREL

paul fredrick menstyle The design of Paul Fredrick’s online catalog is friendly, clean, and accessible. Easy-to-read icons along the right serve as a quick reference point, no matter where you go on the site.

For the discerning shopper, Paul Fredrick features a five-step process that allows consumers to custom-design dress shirts according to individual tastes. Suppose you prefer Windsor spread collars (as the Cybercritic does) rather than more reserved English tab collars. “Create your perfect ensemble,” trumpets the site. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get an accurate representation of the end result from the muddied photo shown.

Search capabilities on the site are quick and easy. A search for “belt,” for instance, retrieves an exhaustive 35 selections; a similar search for “shoe” reveals a slew of footwear options, mostly from manufacturer Cole-Haan.

Paul Fredrick works hard to capture e-mail addresses by entering all visitors who provide their addresses into a drawing for a $1,000 shopping spree. And if you become an e-mail club member – in other words, if you sign up to receive regular e-mail newsletters – you receive discounts toward future purchases.

Completing a purchase from Paul Fredrick is relatively simple and hassle-free. There is one problem, though: I can’t review what’s in my “wardrobe”-my shopping bag-at the point of checkout. For shame!