Men's fashions: Fit to be comfy

February 28, 1993|By Joe Surkiewicz

For guys who are about to embark on a search for new clothes, the latest reports from the fashion front are in.

First, the bad news:

It's a jungle out there: grunge, baby boomers, thrift-shop dressing, baby busters, street styles, the recession, the environment, Bill Clinton. They're all elements playing critical roles in this spring's fashions.

Intimidating? You bet. A stroll through a haber--ery can degenerate into an ordeal as you come face to face with spring's bewildering jumble of clothing styles.

Now for the good news:

It's OK to ignore the trends.

Here's why: Whether your search is for clothes to wear to the office, after work or on weekends, designers are emphasizing two key elements any guy can feel at home with: comfort and flexibility.

"We have a generation of men who have finally gotten comfortable with sportswear," says New York fashion designer Alexander Julian. "For guys who go to the typical office setting, we try to take the nicest aspect of sportswear -- comfort -- and give it to office wear.

"For business wear, we've adapted new materials like crepe fabrics from women's wear. It has a drape, and feels springy and air-conditioned in hot weather. When you put a wool-crepe suit on, it feels like nothing."

Is it a surprise that advances in technology are behind some of the latest fabric innovations?

"It used to be that a suit had to be [of] heavy weight for it not to wrinkle," says Mr. Julian. "But not with the new high-twist fibers: They add resiliency. It's like taking a bed with three springs and replacing it with one that has a thousand springs."

While comfort and looks are important, the other key element this spring is flexibility.

"This year's fashions are meant to simplify a man's wardrobe," says Larry Hotz, a spokesman for Donna Karan Menswear in New York. "Instead of a guy wearing a suit and tie from the office to whatever he plans on doing at night, he can just take the tie off, put on a leather vest and go."

A relaxed style of business dress that emphasizes accessories -- vests, sweaters and textured ties -- has brought phenomenal success to Donna Karan, who two years ago launched menswear collections featuring strong-minded, soft-tailored designs.

This spring, the Donna Karan look for men is mismatched and, well, slouchy. With soft, flowing columns of creaseless fabric that cross the line between sportswear and business wear, the "New York" collection takes the concept of Friday dressing and extends it to the entire workweek.

The relaxed style is also practical.

"The suits travel well," Mr. Hotz says. "You can throw them in a suitcase. Since the pants aren't creased -- Donna doesn't like creases -- it's a more realistic, simple way to dress."

As the dividing line between sportswear and office wear blurs, casual wear is cutting loose with a funkiness that's street-inspired, rugged and positively unorthodox.

"The grunge attitude has taken hold in our DKNY Men spring collection of sportswear," reports Mr. Hotz. "Like the Nirvana video, it's all plaid shirts tied around the waist, looser-fitting pants and shirts, and mixing different patterns. It's dressing like you're not awake, but still making it work."

It's also thoroughly masculine. Funky jeans and chinos, thick leather belts, sporty vests, black leather motorcycle jackets, thick-soled shoes and boots, and earthy cream, oatmeal and beige colors are all basic elements in grunge-inspired casual clothes.

Are men buying it?

"There's a greater tolerance today," Mr. Hotz says. "Society is more cognizant of different elements in cities, whether it's music, literature, or the new administration in Washington. People are more used to seeing different wardrobes."

One element behind this atmosphere of acceptance is the arrival of a new generation. Whether you call them twentysomethings, baby busters or Generation X, the post-baby boomers are exerting a strong influence in men's fashion.

"The 18-to-29-year-old market is college educated, but takes a different approach to buying clothes," explains Tom Julian, a spokesman for the Men's Fashion Association in New York. "They're not as influenced by the dress-for-success mode."

New realities in the business world, such as the recession, are another factor driving this generation's influence on fashion.

"Unlike baby boomers, they tend to work more part-time positions and grass-roots jobs," Mr. Julian says. "They work with computers and faxes, and don't go to meetings. So they don't have to worry about an overall image statement when they dress."

Does this mean that from this day forward, men are condemned to dress in a mode that can be summed up as thoughtfully disheveled?

"Forget grunge!" thunders New York-based designer Ron Chereskin. "I design for men. I get my inspiration from ecology and the environment, because we're all concerned about more important things. But we want to be more comfortable, even when we go to work."

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