Men's fashions; Well-styled off-the-rack fashions offer affordable alternatives to custom-tailoring, once the only way for men to buy stylish clothes

MEN with limited funds to spend on new spring and summer clothes won't be stuck with limited style and quality. The price-is-right message came through loud and clear during trend previews by the Men's Fashion Association at the Apparel Center in Chicago.

Off-the-rack clothes are looking better all the time to scores of men who once thought custom tailoring was the only way to go.

As Chip Tolbert, Men's Fashion Association fashion director, points out, ''Popular priced clothing is much better styled than ever before, and there's a style for every taste in this range - another plus factor.''

So, far from acting like demolition teams, menswear makers offer fresh options to update your current wardrobe, not destroy it. This means no sweeping changes for next season, so unless they're worn out lots of your oldies still are goodies.

In this highly charged political year, business, sports, and formal attire run the gamut from ultraliberal to ultraconser-vative.

Double-breasted suits and sport coats, which made a strong showing last fall, continue to be important.

Relaxed and comfortable is the feeling of a new group of lightly constructed jackets in many styles, including blazers and windbreaker types, which may be worn with slacks or shorts, also knitted sport shirts or shirt and tie.

But models aren't the big story for next season. Fabrics are.

Watch for a large increase in iridescents such as the ''summer silvers'' with focus on gray. The lusters include silks, linens, and worsted blends.

Summer tweeds look good in natural silk, linen, and blends of both. Front-runners in sport coats, some are no-pattern mixes, others checks, herringbones, plaids, and stripes.

For dressing cool in the steamy months, men will turn to old standbys like classic seersucker and lightweight cords.

Textured tropicals continue in wool and polyester blends, while dressy darks, always in demand with the diehards regardless of the season, are well represented in the cooler weights.

In accessories, watch for lots of patterned shirts, some with contrasting collars. Pastels now are basic in shirt colors but offbeat tones make a refreshing appearance in some of the new patterns. Button-down collars are almost as strong in sport shirts as in dress shirts.

Ties are boldly patterned like many of the newest socks which feature a variety of motifs, including clocks.

Bow ties are back with younger men going for slim widths while older fellows opt for two-inch butterfly shapes.

Lightweight designer leathers and suedes in unusual textures, and even printed, continue for jackets and trousers.

You'll hear much about the importance of blouson jackets, but if that word strikes you as too fancy for what most men know as battle or ''Ike'' jackets, just ignore the term. It's enough to know that short, full jackets are arriving in stores by the truckload in every conceivable fabric and color.

Natural tones, also white and white-plus-color, are standouts in the new collections, probably because they will mix well with garments you already own and will look terrific with that tan you'll acquire.

Sweaters, always the big cash-register ringers, will grab customers this year because of bold patterns, especially stripes, geometrics, and abstracts. In boatneck and crewneck styles, it's predicted many new sweaters will be worn without shirts.

''Chic Sweats'' is the tag given to active wear which may be worn for nothing more energetic than weekend relaxing. Included under this label are classic sweatshirts, vests, pull-on pants, and shorts.

Going to the other extreme, what to wear on elegant occasions, trust your trusty black tuxedo or white dinner jacket to be can't-go-wrong choices again this year.

Summing up the philosophy of male dressing in 1984, one designer says, ''We've come a long way in the last few years, but I think if you give men wonderful shapes that are a little new, but not extreme, good colors, fabrics, and textures, it's just enough for today's man to digest.''

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