Menswear influence can be charming as well as corporate


March 26, 1992|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Staff Writer

Toss those sissy suits and dress like a man! That's not as tough as it sounds because clothes pirated from men are the glamour looks today. It's an old idea that has come full cycle.

Hollywood legends the likes of Garbo, Dietrich and Crawford had that special devil-may-care elegance which only great tailoring lends to an attitude. Now the world's best dressmakers have turned to tailoring and altered the way women think about dressing.

Ralph Lauren leads the designer pack with suits that are practically line-for-line copies of male business attire. His wools and silks have a soft, feminine hand, but the overall feel is definitely masculine. Donna Karan, who understands what women want, neutralizes the maleness of her suits by styling them with feminine lace bras and pounds of pearls.

That's the designer level. Women who want to bridge the trend may not be prepared for this much male dominance in their wardrobes.

"I would suggest very tailored things, with very feminine touches," says Hilda Levin, sportswear buyer for Miller Brothers at Towson Town Center. "Women just don't want to look like a man. The severe cuts need a flower or important earrings. The most important factor is a real hairstyle and real makeup; anything less would look too manly."

Ms. Levin admits that she pulled back on buying mannish-looking lines for spring, but expects the influence to be even stronger for fall. "We're putting the look over now with a jacket over a "skort," a full, pleated walking short that shows the leg. Sexy." She suggests a white shirt with a pretty cuff to endow any suit with a tailored touch. "Wear the collar turned up and over the jacket," she says. "It looks smarter."

Menswear can look charming as well as corporate. Young women seem to handle this gender bending with confidence. Remember Annie Hall's floppy thrift store hats and vests? It's not as droopy this time around, with much of the emphasis on separate parts rather than a suited-up look. Stylist and fashion consultant Suzin Boddiford knows how to mix it.

"The trick is to adapt small touches into a basic wardrobe. Pieces can be borrowed from a man or picked up at a thrift store. It's an easy way to filter the trend in an affordable way," says Ms. Boddiford.

Adding a tie or suspenders to casual pants and a basic shirt makes instant menswear. "The way to feminize is choose softer colors," Ms. Boddiford says. "The tie can be floral or pastel and the suspenders on the bright side. Wearing a traditional striped tie at the neck is too literal; using it as a belt is fun." An interesting idea. Designer Michael Kors showed his navy blazer and white shirt accented with a striped cummerbund. A sure bet that costs more than the $2 ties at the Junior League's Wise Penny shop.

All the fashion fuss about masculine cuts should not deter career women who have struggled to break out of the corporate suit uniform at the workplace. Linda Carlo, vice president of women's merchandising at Jos A. Bank Clothiers, sees nothing but the bright side to this trend.

"We have many more options beyond the navy blue pinstriped suit. There is more shape this season with a hint of waistline. Nothing as nipped as what was seen on designer runways but definitely more shape."

The fashion power of the trouser suit is a boon to those mainly concerned about style as well as those also concerned about function -- such as women in some traditionally male professions. "Women who work on development sites have always needed trousers in their physically active jobs. Now pants suits speak high fashion as well as function," says Ms. Carlo.

How far will this cross-dressing go? Women are sure to take it to heart because men's wear makes them look just dandy.

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