Curtis Jackson is, in most ways, a stereotypical manly man.
He plays basketball. He burps out loud. He leaves a mess in every room. But until this past weekend, he felt there was something missing from his guy's-guy image.
He wanted -- no, he needed -- a pair of pink women's shoes.
"It's the hot thing to have," said Jackson, 21, who joined dozens of other men in a long line at 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday outside the Finish Line at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, Wis. The store opened two hours early to accommodate a trend that, in recent months, has left athletic-store clerks scratching their heads.
Pink is the new, hot color in hip-hop and urban gear, especially for men. And because almost none of the athletic clothing manufacturers makes pink shoes in men's sizes, fashion-conscious guys are squeezing their feet into women's styles. On this day, it was the Nike Women's Jordan Retro 12 Low that was released at the Finish Line. Other brands of pink women's shoes -- including Reebok, Phat Farm and K-Swiss -- have been popular as well.
"I make sure and say, 'Y'know, that's a woman's shoe . . . ,' but they don't care anymore," said Dominic Bowden, assistant manager at the Underground Station at the Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. Bowden said he sells at least as many -- if not more -- pink shoes to men as he does to women.
Two floors above, at Lady Foot Locker, store clerk Frank Cunningham is getting tired of disappointing women who want pink for their size 11 feet.
"I have to say, 'Ma'am, we don't have your size. We sold it to a young man,' " he said.
Several famous men have gone public in pink this season, from Ashton Kutcher in a pale pink suit escorting Demi Moore, to Larry King and his pink suspenders. But hip-hop style experts attribute pink's street popularity to rapper Cam'ron, who made a name for himself with pink jumpsuits, pink minks, a pink cell phone and a hot pink Range Rover that he sold on eBay for $160,000 last month. With his new album, "Purple Haze," set for release later this month, rumor has it the trendsetter may be switching to a new color.
But for now, pink's popularity is holding strong. Millions of viewers saw Cam'ron accept a Source Award on BET wearing all pink in November. Soon after that Big Boi, of the Grammy-winning duo OutKast, stepped out in a pink jacket. And the trend seems to be growing, said Stephen Hill, senior vice president of music and entertainment for BET.
In the hip-hop world, Hill believes, the pink trend is not about being preppy. It's an ironic statement of masculinity: "It's being able to say, 'I'm so hard and rough that I'll look hard and rough even in pink.' "
At Nike headquarters, communications manager Nate Tobecksen said the men-buying-women's-shoes trend did not surprise the company, given the way male buyers responded to an earlier line that used more feminine colors. The Twisted Prep line, which came out in October, featured men's shoes in dark pink, lime green and purple, and it was wildly popular, Tobecksen said.
Tobecksen warned that women's shoes are narrower than men's shoes, but he said this hasn't affected the pink trend.
"People who love shoes -- some people call them sneakerheads -- they're devoted. And if they see something they like, people will go to pretty great lengths to get them," Tobecksen said.
And yet people such as James Smith, district manager for Mayfair's Finish Line, wonder whether the athletic companies make pink shoes only in women's sizes on purpose. Shoe companies monitor sales carefully and try not to flood the market, Smith said. But they might have avoided men's pink shoes for another reason, he added.
"Fear," said Smith, who has worked in the athletic shoe industry for more than a decade and has watched shoe fads come and go. "They're not sure it's going to sell."
For now, they are selling. Consider Mitchell Blue, an 18-year-old high school student, who woke up early on this Saturday hoping to get his second pair of pink women's shoes. Blue says his pink has been a hit with the ladies.
"Most girls like dudes that wear pink," he said.
By 9 a.m. -- an hour after the pink Jordans went on sale -- all the size 11 shoes were sold out. By 12:30 p.m. the store was sold out of the $114.99 shoes completely.
One of those pairs was sold to the manly Curtis Jackson, whose cell phone rang playing Usher's "Can U Handle It" as he walked out of the mall. The caller asked a question, to which Jackson responded with a triumphant smile.
"Yeah," he said. "I got 'em."