From chenille tunics to slouchy cardigans, the word for this year's styles is comfort
FROM FAMILY GET-togethers and great holiday parties to the onset of truly wintry weather, there are many reasons surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday to get warm and fuzzy.
That's warm and fuzzy as in super-bright orange or yellomohair pullovers, hooded cotton tunics, handsome cardigans in forest greens or deep burgundies and hand-knit crew necks in rich golds and blues reminiscent of Middle Eastern tapestries.
This season, men and women have a lot to choose from in thsweater department as a more relaxed look comes into fashion after years of uptight shoulder pads and far more structured designs.
And, after all, what could be more relaxed than a sweater?
Men may heave sighs of relief to hear that this yearSee Pagfashions are "keying into the classically inspired wardrobe, but in a more casual look," says Tom Julian, associate director of the Men's Fashion Association, a fashion forecasting group in New York. "It's a decade in which inconspicuous consumption is in."
What inconspicuous consumption means is men getting awawith more sweaters (but interesting ones!) and fewer jackets. Mr. Julian describes it as the comfortable-but-classic "William Hurt look" from Anne Tyler's book and movie "Accidental Tourist."
However, added to Mr. Hurt's slouchy, sweater-and-pantwardrobe are brighter, richer colors inspired by both the fTC environmental movement and by the Middle East. For example, Jantzen sweaters evoke images of exotic tapestries, while designer Henry Grethel's sweater line includes falling leaf patterns as well as a "tribal story" featuring deep, earthy tones worked with white.
Favored hues for men include natural "vegetable colors" such azucchini, squash, pumpkin and olive, says Edward Steinberg, president of J. S. Edwards of Baltimore. But brights such as teal and red are also popular.
For the most part, sweater shapes have stayed traditional -cardigans, crew necks, turtlenecks -- what's new is detailing, says Shelley Wexler, vice president of men's design for Liz Claiborne. However, sweaters -- some with three buttons at the neck -- worn under suits for both men and women are gaining popularity, she says.
In fact, Liz Claiborne features sweaters in a finer gauge yarn, made specifically to be tucked into jeans or pants and worn under a jacket.
At last, men no longer need to rely on neckties to make fashiostatements, as this year's sweaters have become conversation pieces, says Mr. Steinberg. "It's the most exciting year ever for men's sweaters. Last year and the year before, you began to see leather treatments [details] in sweaters. Now there are sweaters with little bits of chenille, sweaters with different textures, thicknesses, weaves, appliques."
Hand-knit sweaters, of course, are in demand with designersuch as Coogi of Australia offering sweaters ranging from $250 to $275 that are "almost like masterpieces," says Mr. Steinberg. "They can put 15 different colors in one sweater."
But for men who don't want to spend quite as much, there are plenty of machine-made sweaters in cotton and cotton blends, says Mr. Julian.
And, "if we're talking investment, cottons are probably bette[than wool]," says Mr. Julian. "Unless it's a very fine gauge wool, it'll probably be worn only six months at most out of the year." For shoppers with an eye toward price, hand-framed sweaters (the body of these sweaters is machine-made and the sleeves, neck and ribbing are hand-knit) are also good buys, he says.
Women's sweaters are equally diverse this year, says Linda Scherr, co-owner of Rococo of Baltimore. "It's the best year for sweaters we've had in five years. Everyone wants long, oversized sweaters for stirrup pants."
Comfort and casual are the operative words as the "big over little" look comes into its own. Thigh-long, hooded sweaters, draw-string tunics made of soft cottons and knits are everywhere. And many of the tunics, some with drop shoulders and big pockets, are made in chenille -- and "chenille is definitely a very leisure feeling," says Janet Koehn, fashion director for women's and men's wear at Spiegel.
Colors for women repeat the environmental tones found imenswear -- but in greater variety -- as well as the bright, jewel-inspired hues. For the holidays and for the upcoming spring season, sweaters are made in what designers are calling "icy pastels," such as pale pinks, off-whites and sea foam greens.
Extremely feminine crotcheted sweaters, both cropped-off at thwaist and thigh-long -- worn with skirts or jeans -- are offered by everyone from Spiegel to the Limited. "In the name of modesty, they're worn with cotton turtlenecks or camisoles," says Ms. Scherr.
Even sweaters for the younger set can be fashion statements this year, says Rosemary Schneider, buyer for Pied Piper Children's Wear of Baltimore. The same detailing that is popular in adult sweaters shows up in children's: Bubble and Squeak offers a line with Aztec designs and silver detailing on the buttons for boys for $45 to $60. In the $85 to $90 range, Marisa Christina Bambina has designed holiday designs hand knit into brightly colored ramie cottons.
Tips to prevent wear and tear on sweaters:
* Machine dry with a couple of towels to absorb the heat and prevent shrinking.
Machine "drying" a sweater (without getting it wet) helps cotton regain its shape.
* Between wearings, brush wool with a soft clothes brush to remove dirt.
If wrinkled, place sweater in a steamy bathroom to smooth out creases.
* Dry clean or hand wash wool sweaters in mild detergent. To dry, roll in a towel, gently wring the towel. Then dry flat.
* Store sweaters flat, rather than hanging.