U.S. menswear: the season for color, texture

Value comes first, especially in these times of national budget slashing, and the men's fashion industry has been all too aware of this. Ergo,m no designer has hit the ground running with a much fatter tie or an outlandishly wider shoulder, in hopes his innovation will bring cheers from the consumer. Still, without disturbing any basic contours or dimensions, men's fashion is moving along.

The major spring/summer changes are in texture and color -- the two areas of safety for experimentation in menswear. Nubs and slubs are the surface-interest story; pastels (pink, in particular) give the color message. Pink should not be confused with hunting pink, although that scarlet tinge is always a welcome sartorial asset, particularly in sports clothes.

Alexander Julian, hailed as the most outstanding US designer, is using a rainbow mix of threads this season, such as a jacket interwoven in eggplant, brown, and blue against gray, with a tattersall overplaid that combines pink with yellow, heliotrope, sky blue, and mint. His fearless use of various hues might not succeed for everyone, but it demonstrates the manner in which men's designers are spinning the color wheel these days.

For most males, a readily acceptable way fo adding color will be through madras plaids, which are covering the fashion map this season. In addition to the genuine, vegetable-dyed India madras, vat- dyed domestic varieties (including seersuckers) are rife -- taking the form of innumerable short-sleeved shirts, casual jackets, slacks, belts, ties, an watch straps.

The off-beat color mixtures, by the way, are not confined to sport coats and shirts. New suit materials may contain as many as six colors in a single glen plaid. The combinations become even more complex when, as is frequently the case, more than one pattern is used in a menswear textile. A pattern interwoven with a second pattern is a fresh idea in suitings. A stripe, for example, might be subtly overlaid by a windowpane check.

In the texture area, the slubbed silk suit or jacket rates as the luxury acquisition of the season. Silk tweed, rough linen, hopsacking, and pebbly cotton blends are other possibilities. Ties exhibit tactile qualities, too. Corduroy, ribby faille, and raised crochet are some of th e popular finishes in new neckwear.

The fashionable business suit is porous, lightweight, and, as noted above, intriguing in weave and color, but otherwise has not undergone perceptible change. It continues to be long of line, natural as to shoulders (padding is slight) and double or single-breasted and two or three-piece according to personal choice.

In casual clothes, however, there is more doing. The bomber jacket, a success in leather this winter comes in poplin versions suitable for city as well as seaside weekends. Sweaters come in interesting weaves and textures and, like T-shirts, are much looser. The suggestion is that they be worn over chinos -- not tucked in.

Along with the women, many men may opt to take their ease wearing dark green khaki and camouflage patterns, along with updated bush jackets. Judging by the amounts of that sort of leisure gear, we may be reverting to unisex times.

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