Suited for spring Fashionable men poised to loosen up and go for the bold

April 01, 1993|By Robin Updike | Robin Updike,Seattle Times

Men who aren't 25 anymore and aren't athletically built rock musicians should thank their lucky stars for President Clinton, a 46-long with a paunch who nevertheless is a new pinup for America's men's fashion industry.

Though no one will ever confuse our husky president with a GQ model, the menswear industry is as giddy as a co-ed whose blind date arrives in a smart Italian suit. Compared with George Bush's preppy, passe pinstripes, the industry hopes that Mr. Clinton's taste for softer suits, bold ties and French cuffs will inspire male baby boomers to loosen up and dress with a -- more panache.

"Mr. Clinton has already made some changes in what is acceptable in suit silhouettes," said Tom Julian, fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association (MFA), an industry group that sponsored a preview of men's spring fashions in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Attended by fashion reporters and a sampling of menswear and accessory manufacturers ranging from Pendleton Woolen Mills and J. C. Penney to Pierre Cardin and Mondo di Marco, the preview also spotlighted promising young designers of "directional" apparel for young men.

"Directional" clothes are inspired by the most extreme fashion trends. This season they are mostly derived from the hip-hop, rave and grunge music scenes -- though a few renegade designers took inspiration from the genteel fashions of the 1930s and the swaggering Muscle Beach scene of '50s Southern California -- and are of the type featured in Details, the fashion magazine for men who think GQ is for their fathers. Directional clothes, also classified as "contemporary sportswear" by retailers, usually look best on chiseled 22-year-olds with sassy attitudes.

The music scene won't have much fashion impact on 40-year-olds with office jobs, however; the Clinton ascendancy will. As all the fashion world knows, Mr. Clinton likes updated suits with pleated pants and double-breasted, roomy, ventless jackets with broad, soft shoulders. Think of the suits worn by actor Tim Robbins in the movie "The Player" and you have the general look.

"Almost every resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has put his own style imprint on the nation," Mr. Julian said, adding that Mr. Clinton's fashion legacy will likely be to give regular guys more sartorial options. The industry hopes Mr. Clinton will make it chic for powerful, serious men to look like something other than aging Secret Service agents.

In two days of runway shows, the MFA suggested options. There were plenty of suits and blazer-and-slack combinations in sophisticated olives and taupes, colors often shown in spring collections, but which usually fade like summer blooms once fall rolls around. The industry believes such colors will become more acceptable in boardrooms now that the generation that 25 years ago traded its letter sweaters for love beads is taking over this nation's most powerful offices.

Among other trends in tailored clothing: lapels are wider, to 4 1/2 inches; shoulders are still broad, up to 21 inches from outer edge to outer edge, though no longer stiff and block-like; jackets are long and ventless, either double- or single-breasted (double-breasted currently represents 30 percent to 40 percent of all sales). Single-breasted jackets have two or three buttons placed low, though a few manufacturers are showing three- and four-button jackets.

Pants have two to three pleats and are usually cuffed. The exceptions are trousers meant to go with the sportier nautical looks that appear each spring in navy and white themes. Some of these trousers are flat front, slim-fitting and tapered at the ankle.

Mixing patterns is also a fashion trend this spring, a look that requires creative thinking. Essentially the look means mixing a patterned suit or jacket, perhaps a herringbone or check weave, with a striped shirt and a print or striped tie. The trick is to mix

subtly, and there are a few easy rules: A jacket with a small, tight pattern, perhaps a tiny check, should be worn with a loosely patterned shirt, perhaps one with widely spaced stripes. The tie would then contrast with the shirt by having a tighter pattern and more vibrant colors.

With many men now eschewing suits for dressy blazers and slacks, manufacturers are promoting the idea of mixing tailored sport coats with T-shirts, knit polos, and shirts with banded collars, a look that Mr. Julian said will be hitting mainstream men's fashion soon. Polo shirts shown were sometimes patterned with a contrasting solid collar and were always worn buttoned all the way up.

Men shopping for weekend wear will find it difficult to avoid stripes this spring. Bold, bright stripes sometimes as wide as several inches across are on casual shirts, shorts and slacks. The loudest patterns are called "awning stripes" after the old-fashioned window awnings or canvas beach chairs they resemble.

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