This summer, the status fashion statement for men is a rich print shirt in rayon or silk. And the fit? With a nod toward post-'80s casualness, these bold shirts are loose and comfortable.
But the look is a far cry from Don Ho on the beach at Waikiki.
Instead, think of debonair Cary Grant relaxing on a seaside terrace in Monte Carlo.
"This summer's print shirts reflect the '30s and '40s," reports Arnold Borenstein, owner of Eclectic, a downtown men's clothing store. "It's a Hollywood-on-a-Saturday-afternoon look. Picture Humphrey Bogart in his back yard with Lauren Bacall and a couple of dogs."
Other area retailers concur: When it comes to print shirts, the shift is away from loud floral prints and toward scenic graphics, bold stripes, dots and geometrics and subdued florals.
"There's been a tremendous graphics explosion from the top shirt manufacturing companies," says Harvey Hyatt, co-owner of Hyatt & Co.
"The Hawaiian-print shirt has lost its popularity. But people don't want to wear a basic shirt for a night out. So now we're seeing animal prints and florals."
This season's newest crop of print shirts often feature specific scenes, adds Mr. Hyatt's brother and business partner, Edward.
"Now we're seeing scenic prints featuring Looney Tune characters, like Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam," says Mr. Hyatt. "And instead of being randomly placed on the shirt, the prints are centered on the front or just one panel, It gives more of a theme than a wallpaper look."
One major retailer, however, reports that floral print sport shirts continue to outsell graphic prints this summer -- but not by much.
"The best sellers are rayon prints of all different kinds, both geometrics and florals," says Dave Asquith, a spokesman for J.C. Penney Co. in Alexandria, Va. "But the shirts really aren't bright like Hawaiian shirts. They're subdued prints."
The toned-down look in print shirts reflects a move toward clean, solid dressing, according to New York-based Caroline Tulenko, public relations manager at Biderman Industries Corp., owner of Arrow Co. and Bill Robinson Menswear.
"Knits are where you find the most patterns, especially bold geometrics," Ms. Tulenko says. "Also, we're seeing more conversational prints, such as little golfers and golf bags in the patterns. And the fit is generally looser, like in rugged wear."
If you suspect aging baby boomers are behind the popularity of nostalgia-inducing, loose-fitting print shirts, you may be right.
"To people born in the '50s, print shirts can be very old-fashioned, warm and cuddly," points out Mr. Borenstein. "Like an old friend, they're very reassuring, especially in a time when things change every day. It's part of the trend of remembering the old days."
Print shirts do more than console us, however. They also lend themselves to the casualness in dressing-- especially if the shirt is made from a luxurious fabric.
"Silk shirts are big sellers this year," reports Pam Peacher, manager of Britches of Georgetown in Owings Mills Mall. "People are looking for more shirts they can wear with a blazer and jeans."
Furthermore, this year's new crop of print shirts can be worn long after the barbecue grill is put away.
"Rayon and cotton print shirts can go forward into fall," says Suzin Boddiford, a local fashion consultant and former fashion editor with Women's Day magazine. "Wear them under a solid-colored sports jacket and jeans. It's a very casual look."
Abstract geometrics and solids with prints pieced in are another popular option for style-conscious men in the market for sport shirts with pizazz.
"A popular shirt with us this summer is a cotton madras plaid with a chili pepper motif embroidered on it," reports Larry Belt, owner of Saeno Menswear Collective in Mount Vernon.
If abstract geometrics or vegetable motifs don't turn you on, look for a print shirt that reflects your interests. "You can show so many aspects of life on this summer's print shirts -- golf, chess, sailing," Mr. Borenstein says. "We have an art series that features Picasso and Monet. It lets us market directly to an individual's taste."
Aside from reflecting a man's interests, print sport shirts feel great. "The fit is a big plus. A full, drapy shirt feels traditional, campy, Hollywood-ish, old money and comfortable," Mr. Borenstein says. "In fact, it makes people feel like they have better taste than they actually do."
The choices in stylish men's print sport shirts range from abstract geometric designs, bold stripes or dots, and conversational motifs -- and they all feature a comfortable, oversized fit. When shopping, keep these fashion guidelines in mind:
*If you're looking for optimum mileage, avoid floral and tropical prints. Geometrics go forward into fall much more easily than splashy, flowery prints.
*Speaking of fall, black-and-white print shirts are a great choice, especially when worn with a black leather jacket and denim jeans -- everything's a solid color except the shirt.
*Silk, rayon and cotton are best bets when it comes to fabrics. It takes a high quality fabricto pick up the fine details of a print.
*Look for graphics that aren't too splashy. You'll get better fashion mileage if the shirt has a neutral tone -- say navy -- which means this fall the shirt can be layered with a white T-shirt showing at the throat.
*For the right pair of pants to go with a bold print shirt, select a quiet twill or solid neutral trouser without a lot of detail. After all, the pants shouldn't compete with the shirt. For summer, white shorts or pants go especially well.
*And for your feet? Anything goes, from loafers to tennis shoes.