Many men are learning to dress comfortably as they settle into the '90s

January 07, 1993|By Jean Patteson | Jean Patteson,Orlando Sentinel

Power dressing was the watchword in the dress-for-success '80s. For men, that meant wearing dark, tailored suits, white shirts and red ties.

Then came the '90s, introduced with much media fanfare as a kinder, gentler decade. According to the fashion trend watchers, men would now be loosening their ties, unbuttoning their collars and swapping their ritzy European jackets for homespun sweaters -- while abandoning the pursuit of power and prestige to save the planet and cocoon with their families.

Suit sales -- or lack thereof -- would seem to support that notion. Since 1989, unit sales of suits have plunged 34 percent, while sales of knit shirts have risen 21 percent, according to Kurt Salmon Associates, a national apparel consulting firm.

There are two camps -- the dress-ups and the dress-downs. In the conservative professions such as banking and law, men dress up in suits to maintain their traditional image of professionalism. In many government offices, the jacket-and-tie rule is relaxed only on "casual Fridays."

But in the more creative professions -- entertainment, marketing, promotions, retailing, architecture, advertising -- men are embracing the new, relaxed approach to workplace wardrobing.

Those men are starting to dress as if every day of the week were "casual Friday."

Ten years ago a suit would have been deemed appropriate attire for an accountant. Today, in the smaller accounting firms, that's not the case anymore.

There are several reasons for the loosening up of the professional dress code, said Tom Julian, fashion director at the Men's Fashion Association, a trade group in New York.

For starters, the fashion industry is offering men more choices in the styles and colors of suits, shirts and ties, and the suits themselves are cut with softer, more flowing lines than the rigid, fitted models introduced in the early '80s.

At the same time, men have come to appreciate the comfort and versatility of the clothes they wear for sports and leisure activities. They are starting to introduce elements of their weekend wardrobes, such as knit shirts, into their workday wardrobes.

"Then you have what Fortune magazine calls the 'baby-buster generation' -- younger men who are choosing job satisfaction and creativity over the fast track. Many of them are working, at least partly, out of their homes. This may mean more flexible fashions for work, though probably not in the Fortune 500 companies. They still dress for the boardroom -- in suits," Mr. Julian said.

He did point out that for many men the "uniform" of a dark suit, white shirt and traditional tie is a lot easier to assemble in the morning than a more creative casual look. "This alone is reason enough for many men to stick with their suits," he says.

Reluctance to meddle with the accepted image of certain professionals is another.

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