Menswear; Offering a new palette of subtle colors

Men who live in neutrals and who have been thinking of color solely in terms of red, blue, and green are in for some surprises. They are about to be exposed to a palette that includes coral, jade, pink, aqua, lilac, cerulean blue, celadon, and saffron.

Such offbeat hues were part of the holiday-resort picture in men's fashion. Once winter-tanned vacationers return from the islands, the new color spectrum will be due for an extended run through spring and summer. Predictions from the menswear industry promise solid-color dress shirts with white collars as well as lino-weave menswear fabrics that combine as many as eight different colors in the same material.

The addition of softened color (the musty desert tones especially) is the chief innovation in men's clothing this season. As might be expected, the most color-filled area of masculine attire is sportswear. But even the men who dress for success will not be immune to a subtle color stripe or two in their conservative worsteds.

Tailoring is respecting the status quo: natural shoulders, moderate lapels and collars, slightly indented waists, and straight, median-width trousers. Pierre Cardin, ever the one to strike out in new directions, is promoting a wedge shape with broadened shoulders and nipped-in waist.

Sophisticated dressers in New York are making much ado over costume designer Milena Canonera's men's clothes for ''Chariots of Fire,'' the film about the British runners in the 1924 Olympics. Writers for leading United States men's fashion publications have called the movie ''the season's best-dressed film'' and ''fashion movie of the year.'' Their enthusiasm may well be catching. The period knitwear, athletic uniforms, and training gear that Miss Canonera translated so expertly to the screen is already being talked about as the latest in avant-garde dressing. By fall, Norfolk jackets and the kind of long-lined three-piece suits of tweed that the British call ''Friday suits'' (because they wear them to business before departing for weekends in the country) and which have vests adorned with curved lapels should be on the backs of all faithful subscribers to ''Gentlemen's Quarterly.''

Meanwhile, those whose fashion tastes are progressive can, like their female counterparts, be seen in expensive leathers and high-visibility stripes. They can also wear band- or wing-collared shirts as an alternative to the aforementioned colored shirt with a white collar (an item that is given high-style priority this season). Another shirt look, suggested at the Men's Fashion Association press showings in Dallas last month, is a shirt that is darker in tone than the light-colored suit it accompanies.

Pure cotton, cotton blends, and cotton mixed with silk are all top-rated, and a good thing, too. Polyester is held in contempt in many quarters, despite its wash-and-wear advantages. Its looks fail to hold up, and unlike the porous natural fibers, it increases body heat in hot weather.

Seersuckers, feathercords, poplins, and gabardines are among the cotton suitings for spring into summer, along with pure wool and wool blends in solids, stripes, and plaids. Cricketeer's line of sportcoats, a typical selection, ranges from all-cotton and cotton-and-wool blends to pure silk. Shirtweight tartan plaids, cotton Madras (in soft pastels), silk-blend chevrons, and linen-blend plaids are other sportcoat choices.

The major knit styles are the open-weave, mercerized-cotton sweaters - many of them striped as well as textured - with V or crew necks. Polo shirts, of either the rugby type or the LaCoste, and hooded sweatshirts lead the field for more active wear. Many men whose professions allow for casual dress at the office like the combination of sports jacket or blazer, slacks, and a V-necked sweater vest. Textural mixtures being easy to compose these days, this sort of assemblage can come off as both dressy and conservative with, say, a linen or slubbed silk jacket, a Berber-stripe V-neck vest, and gabardine or poplin trousers.

Menswear seems to inch along without any great alterations in shapes or basic proportions. But in actual fact, it is becoming more diversified each season in color, fabric, and surface interest. And like women's fashion, it has a multitude of choices for every taste.

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