High time to relax Men in white collars borrow outdoor themes from the great Northwest Vida Roberts

June 10, 1993|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The demise of the business uniform as we know it is bein echoed in the canyons of big-city skyscrapers and great mountain valleys. The rugged individualist is taking his place in the workplace.

At the Men's Fashion Association fall previews here last week, menswear designers and manufacturers showed how a relaxed dress code and a higher fashion profile can be made to work together.

As the cut of suits and jackets goes buttoned-up high and narrow, bolder patterns, textures and accessories send a more casual message. It's what today's man wears between his lapels that takes him out of the business regimen.

He can choose to shed his tie in favor of a polo and vest. He can elect to wear a dark shirt instead of his traditional white. He can put a vest to work as a jacket. He can even find a place for plaid in his office wardrobe.

The generation entering the work force now grew up in rough-and-tumble jeans and sneakers, and although it is willing to dress in a manner appropriate to climb the career ladder, ease and durability are a habit that will be tough to abandon. And the jeans generation is a potent market force. Designs borrowed from rugged outdoorsmen are being integrated into the fashion vocabulary -- the lumberjack, the cowboy, the mechanic and rancher have a new appeal as jobs become more sedentary and computer-driven.

Overall, the fashion picture for fall is one in which any man will feel comfortable.

The shape

Jackets are slimming down, and the closure is moving higher on the chest. Ironically, the more buttoned-up look of suits is tied to a looser, fashion-forward attitude. The American version of the new dandified Italian silhouette is a longer jacket (32 1/2 inches vs. 31) and narrower lapels of 3 inches with four- or five-button closures.

The three-button, single-breasted "sack suit" also follows the narrowing trend but has shed its old Ivy League stodginess when it is cut of softer cloth. It can even party at night with a change of shirt and attitude.

On another retro trail, the double-breasted cut favored by '40s matinee idols has been reinterpreted in six-on-four or eight-on-four button stances. The greater the button count, the stronger the fashion message.

Pleated trousers still dominate, but flat fronts are gaining.

And casual pants in a narrow cavalry cut look-ing with equestrian-styled jackets.

The best of vests

The vest is the newest and most versatile garment necessary to every man's wardrobe. Vests have never been better. They are seen in rich velvets and velours, rugged buckskin, patchwork silks, luxurious cashmere knits, subtle and soft paisleys and in fisherman styles in every imaginable fabrication. Some even match a suit.

When they are called waistcoats, they may be double-breasted, shawl-collared and trimmed with pockets and decorative buttons.

The vest can go it alone as a replacement for a jacket or be the one accessory to make a total look pop. A vest wardrobe will be the key to fashion currency this fall.

The country gentleman

The weekend wear of the British upper classes is being reinterpreted for the dapper American. This is a countryfied look shaped into hacking jackets and shooting coats cut from textured tweeds, flannels and checks.

The belted back and Norfolk jacket are seen in rich rustic colors borrowed from the woodland and game birds.

On a lordlier note, the swallowtail coat immortalized by the grandestdandy of them all, Beau Brummell, is making a formal-wear revival.

The new knits

Fall's sweaters are not bulky, oversized behemoths, but pared down to move easily under a city jacket or work as a jacket alone. Younger designers have reinvented the cardigan, and it has lost its Mr. Rogers and granddad fashion stigma.

Some of the best have zippered closings, which look to the future.

And there's a new lightness to knits, with blends of wool, silk, cotton and cashmere making them more affordable and wearable all year long.

The more casual ragamuffin look is knit closer to the body in cables, ribs and fisherman patterns featuring the new roll neck, a cross between a crew and mock turtle, which gives the neckline a more refined finish when the sweater is worn under a jacket. The resurrected turtleneck solves the problem of what to wear when a tie is not required.

Knit ties are back too, not the squared-off old monochromatic dullards favored by those anti-fashion professorial types. New knits havecolor, deep patterns and are cut to a point.

The trimmings

Visual menswear details for fall go high-tech industrial or hand-finished primitive. Zippers, in a hard wear mode, replace buttons on jackets and vests and zip-up sweaters and ankle boots.

In an earthy global vein, simple whipstitching accents leathers, sweaters and even suits for a handmade textural detail. Lacings, studs and fringe in small doses add '70s influences for today's dresser.

Northern exposure

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