He Wears Green Velvet

... and garnet, and brown and black

Velvet's a hot fabric in menswear this fall, but will guys go for it?

October 02, 2005|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN REPORTER

Leaping lizards! Velvet is back for men this fall. No, not lounge-lizard wear, but beautiful silk- and cotton-based velvet blazers in colors like black, chocolate brown and garnet.

"Velvet blazers are being tipped as one of the season's hottest items for men -- for fashion-conscious men, that is," says David Wolfe of the Doneger Group, which forecasts fashion trends.

In New York, velvet blazers are selling like crazy, in spite of the warm weather. Stephen Cardino, men's fashion director for Macy's East, says most of the store's stock is being bought at this point by 16- to 24-year-olds who wear them clubbing.

It's happening in New York, but will it be happening in Baltimore?

Ryan Burrows, a 24-year-old who lives in Canton, says simply, "You wouldn't catch me dead in velvet."

When he goes to a bar on the weekend, he has on jeans and a dressy tee or maybe a polo shirt. He doesn't wear a sports coat, let alone a velvet one. To Burrows, a commercial leasing representative, it's a feminine fabric.

"Velvet's not in my wardrobe," he says with a laugh.

He may change his mind when he sees what local menswear stores like Kuhlman in the Gallery at Harborplace are carrying this fall. Kuhlman's velvet jacket, priced at $295, will come in olive, midnight blue, plum and charcoal gray.

We've seen velvet before, but nothing like this. This fall, every clothing line from Louis Vuitton to Banana Republic has velvet in the mix. The opulent fabric's new appeal, says Wolfe, is a symptom of the shift from dressing down to dressing up.

"More recently, there's been a general trend toward more luxurious, polished looks in menswear," agrees Souri Kim, fashion marketing director for Details magazine, which featured eight velvet blazers in its September issue.

Velvet got its tacky reputation when it was polyester-based, he believes, while today's velvets are made from natural materials. (Velvet isn't a fiber; it's a weave structure that can be made from almost any fiber. An extra set of warps creates its soft, dense pile.)

Velvet got its tacky reputation when it was polyester-based, he believes, while today's velvets are made from natural materials. (Velvet isn't a fiber; it's a weave structure that can be made from almost any fiber. An extra set of warps creates its soft, dense pile.)

"Velvet was all over the runways at this season's men's collections, and at every price point," he says.

What's new is the fit, closer to the body, slightly shorter and slimmer in the lapels. Many of these blazers are trimmed or have piping along the lapels.

What's even newer is how they're being worn: With attitude. You'll see them with jeans, a vintage T-shirt or a button-front shirt, and boots, tennis shoes or loafers.

"Once a guy gets over whatever preconceived notions he may have about velvet - like the prom or dogs-playing-poker art," says Kim, "he realizes it's the perfect item to pair with jeans if an occasion arises where he needs to dress up."

Kim, who is 31, says he splurged on a dark greenish-brown velvet blazer by Yves Saint Laurent, which he calls "an incredibly irresponsible purchase." (The YSL jacket featured in Details costs $1,580). He has no regrets because he loves his new jacket and thinks it's timeless, something he'll be wearing for years with everything from tweed trousers to khakis to jeans.

More conservative dressers - which probably means older men - will opt for charcoal flannel pants or, if it's a formal affair, a classic tuxedo-stripe pant.

The stage was set for the return of the velvet jacket about two years, says Cardino of Macy's, when the sports coat became big again for young men. "Cut close to the body, it's become an outerwear alternative through November." Velvet, in other words, is yet another fabric in which manufacturers can offer a popular style.

"Men are looking for something else they can wear with their premium jeans," says Harvey Hyatt, co-owner and buyer for Hyatt & Co., a local men's retailer.

Velvet jackets, at least in New York, aren't being bought now to save for the holidays. The store's customers, Cardino says, tend to be "wear now" buyers. Just as cowboy boots were a hot item for women in New York City this summer, wearing out-of-season clothing is a very current look right now among what retailers call "younger contemporary customers."

"The one-button is `most directional,'" says Cardino. "The reason I like it is because it buttons lower, so you get credit for a wonderful shirt."

By that, he means a fashion T-shirt with a great graphic. You wear it, of course, with the front of the shirt tucked in and the back out.

Cardino also recommends a contemporary "statement" belt and cowboy boots or loafers. It goes without saying that the pants should be distressed or polished denim.

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