Warm and fuzzy thoughts of hearth and home are shifting men's fashions in casual, comfy new directions.
Instead of looking like a slick and packaged Michael Douglas in a scene from the movie "Wall Street," the idea is to assume a more unstudied air, like Harrison Ford in "Regarding Henry" -- after he discovered the importance of the simpler things in life.
It means wearing a sport coat more often than a suit. Trying a turtleneck sweater instead of a tie, wearing a rugged anorak to work instead of a cashmere topcoat and never slicking down your hair.
"The baby boomers are coming down to earth," says retailer Arnold Borenstein of Eclectic, explaining the new attitude in men's fashion.
"In the '80s, if we saw a man in a hard-shouldered, angular suit walking with a pompous gait, we thought, 'Gosh, we want to be like him -- he's going places, he's making a lot of money.' "
The fashion picture that is more in keeping with the '90s, says Mr. Borenstein, is "a man in khaki pants. He looks soft and crumpled, and he has a boy in one hand and a little girl in the other. And it's, 'Gosh, he must be going to brunch with his kids. I wish I was.' "
The aging of the baby boomer and a backlash against the excess of the '80s are only two of the recent factors contributing to the more relaxed look of men's fashions today.
The rules of dressing have been changing gradually over the last couple of decades, says Jack Herschlag, director of the National Association for Men's Sportswear Buyers. "There are fewer and fewer rules these days -- we just don't have the same rigidity. Most restaurants today don't require jackets, and hardly any a tie.
"And when I travel around the country I hardly ever see suits anymore. I see sport coats everywhere -- except places like the bank boardroom. With people traveling so much, you just don't want to wear a suit -- you want to wear something comfortable that takes you from the airport to a business meeting."
Another influence on the changing definition of the working uniform are the "millions of Americans [who] are now working flex schedules and work in and out of home," says Tom Julian, fashion director for the Men's Fashion Association.
"There's no real strict delineation between home and business anymore. It's a real crossover," Mr. Borenstein points out. "It's the computer age. You can do work at home at night, and with the fitness craze, you're going out to work out at lunch time and then coming back to the office. There's more of a mix and that's reflected in the clothes men are wearing."
The 500 Fashion Group recently launched a whole new division, the Bert Pulitzer Relax line, specifically aimed at the young executive looking to incorporate some of the comfort of his sportswear wardrobe into his 9 to 5 routine.
"It's more relaxed, oversized and more drapey," says the company's president Mitchel Nichnowitz. "And we're hoping fashion coordinators will show it on their mannequins in a more relaxed way."
Five years ago, everybody was dressing to match, says Mr. Julian. "What we're seeing now is a mixing of old and new, of
fashion and basics, and a mix of work and play."
The blazer, jeans and white T-shirt combination that first became popular a few years ago was one of the first signs of this new fashion philosophy. Then, this past spring, men began experimenting with wearing dressy chambray or denim shirts with their working wardrobe.
Sportier shirts are only going to become more popular, says Mr. Julian.
"The next step for a man who already has a chambray shirt might be a darker, twill work shirt -- flap pockets, details like a seam stiched down to hold a pen, a wider fly down the front of a shirt, split yoke back -- very Timberland," he says.
More casual, sportier ties are also starting to gain favor over the conversational, dressy silk tie. "We're going to be hearing more about knit ties -- either cotton or wool -- and maybe with a bit of embroidery or in a patchwork print," Mr. Julian says.
"The knit ties are looking new again," says Larry Belt, who recently began carrying them in his store, Saeno. "But even these aren't supposed to match. There's more emphasis on contrast. You don't want it all to look canned."
Ties, dressy and sporty, may add contrast or texture to an outfit, but they're also toning down.
"They're getting softer," says Mr. Borenstein. "We're getting back to wearing a tie because it's pretty, instead of because it's bold and makes a statement."
"We're turning down the volume. Anything that bespeaks too much time or too much concern in how you're looking is passe. Instead the clothes should look like they've been chosen because 'I like them, they're comfortable and they're a good color for me.' "
Getting comfortable with the more casual look
As with most men's fashion trends, fall's newest cozy, casual look will appear most prominently in weekend wardrobes, but its subtle influence will eventually show up in all but the most conservative offices.