Men's designers seek timeless designs

It seems that venerable adage -- clothes make the man -- is not so out of date after all. Today's successful man has style as well as substance, or so the world of menswear tells us.

In response to a recent survey, business and professional men whose incomes are in or above the $40,000-a-year bracket indicated they are quite certain that the way they dress has a direct effect on clients, employees, and others whose favorable judgments have tangible value.

The research, conducted by Grief & Co., American producers of suits by the Savile Row firm of Kilgour, French & Stanbury, showed what any intelligent man must have known all along. Lawyers, architects, bankers, educators, engineers, government officials, and theologians were polled, and as one member of the group put it, clothing in quiet good tastes that sets an appropriate tone for business "transmits a certain sense of substance about me and gives an image of what can be expected of me."

The survey was right in line with what is happening in menswear. According to Chip Tolbert, fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association of America, this is the year of the "all-business business suit" when traditional clothing is a high as the prime rate.

Mr. Tolbert says "stripes of every stripe," including pin, pencil, chalk, variegated widths, and multicolors, are in (which happens to be the extent of the real news in suitings). Plaids, which have not been too prevalent in recent seasons, are also doing well this year, with the Glen plaid (in dressy worsted) back in circulation. So is the legenary all-American gray flannel suit.

Some American menswear designers whose tastes were trendy have gone with the flow and are more conservative this year. Alexander Julian, Jhane Barnes, and Lee Wright are stressing "timelessness" in their current collections.

No one is fidding with lapels or shoulders, not even Giorgio Armani, the influential forward-thinking Milanese designer who shook up menswear circles a few years ago by lopping inches off lapels and making free with wide shoulder padding. Armani's waistlines are accentuated, in the Italian manner, but his silhoutte has otherwise stabilized: straight defined shoulder, low-gorge dropped lapel, lower button placement.

Most business suits have similar narrow, slim-hipped styling, with two-button closures and center vents in back. Lapels have settled to a median width of 3 1 /2 to 3 3/4 inches in proportion with 2- to 3 1/4-inch-wide ties and 2 1/2- to 3 -inch collars. What is worn over all this, as the chill factor begins to mount, will mark more of a change.

Topcoats and overcoats, some as generously proportioned as greatcoats, are arousing new interest. The successful man of substance who has not heretofore worn a Chesterfield during the day may very possibly be seen entering his limousine wearing a velvet-collared topcoat. When it snows, the company chairman might deck himself out in a fur-lined trench coat with a silk poplin outer shell.

In contrast to the more formalized executive dress and its dearth of change, casual sportswear is a creative designer's paradise. Short bomber jackets, blousons, and military styles come in leather (as fashionable for men as for women this reason), poplin, corduroy, down-filled nylon, and wool.

Some short jackets have zip-off sleeves, some are channel-quilted across the chest and shoulders, others utilize the color-separation idea in blocks or partitions. Sal Cesarani's classic Rugby jersey is broken up with a white collar, forest green body, maroon sleeves, and orange arm stripes. Calvin Klein's parkas and duffel coats are equipped with utilitarian details: funnel hoods, back storage pockets, and button-in wool linings.

Sweaters have developed into the most colorful area of men's dress. The bulky knit pullover, destined for outdoor wear, is one of the few styles in a single solid color. Both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have designed Navajo Indian intarsia sweaters. Vests of brilliantly colored Fair Isle patterns, pullovers with Scandinavian snowflake or deer designs, and textured mixes of smoky tones in mohair are among the choices.

Color is gaining more acceptance all around these days for sports and leisure clothes. A forest green shirt with a yellow wool tie raises no eyebrows now.

Color is also in vogue for black-tie evenings. A few of the options are a blazer in Reagan red for the dinner-party host, tartan trousers with a velvet jacket for the man who is dining a deux,m or a deep-toned plaid jacket with tuxedo trousers for a semiformal night on the town.

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