Quality and color keynote menswear

Having played the game of slenderizing lapels, thinning out ties, reducing shirt collars, beefing up shoulders, and whittling down waists and hips, menswear designers have decided not to rock any boats this season.

Stability is the key word for all, with lasting quality underlined as a highly important ongoing requirement.

Spokesmen for the industry speak of "investment clothing" -- a masculine equivalent of "investment dressing" for women -- as the direction the consumer will follow. Of course, men have always expected the clothes they purchase to hold up over a longer period than women have, and menswear has met these expectations -- being generally better made and less vulnerable to instant fashion changes.

All the same, the quality classic principle bears repeating in these recessive times, and menswear authorities feel it cannot be overemphasized.

But while stressing stability and moderation as the season's characteristics, they want men to know that this fall's clothes are anything but hundrum.

"Though classic styling is a strong influence, they are many new ideas plus exquisite new colorings," says Chip Tolbert of the Men's Fashion Association of America.

With the exception of certain European styles, suit shapes have settled down to normalcy. The vested suit ranks high. Lapels are longish and medium-to-narrow in width, shoulders broad but rounded (although progressive Italian designers still make them ultra-wide), waists slightly indented, hiplines minimized.

Single- and double-brested jackets seldom have back vents, and trousers are cuffless. Ties are 2 1/2 inches wide -- no more, no less, sticklers for accuracy insist.

The way to tell that a man is wearing this season's suit and not last year's is by the fabric. Even board-room grays and blues have been blended with other colors, and such mixes as olive, camel, and berry produce distinctive neutral shades. Irridescent weaves are still in, but are on the wane.

Herringbones and stripes (sometimes both together) are around in dressy worsteds as well as tweeds, cheviots, and saxonies. For town and country power dressers, there are twills, whipcords, and covert cloth to coordinate with tick, Donegal, and Harris-tupe tweeds. There is nothing wishy- washy about the new plaids: forceful burgundy, mountain blue, and forest green predominate on natural backgrounds. Throat latches, bellows pockets, and elbow patches are typical sport jacket details.

Since lightweight tweeds and corduroys are now acceptable in some business situations, two-and-three-piece suits of such materials are in good supply. An alternative is to compose a suit look with various sportswear separates, something women have been doing for some time (or did they pick up the idea from men?).

The possibilities grow more unlimited each season. Many men understand the fine points of tone-on-tone dressing and textural interplay better than women do. This season's vast assortment of pullovers and sweater vests affords further mix-and-match combinations: a pebbly knit or cable-stitched Sketland worn in place of a waistcoat, with dress shirt and tie, tweed blazer, and slacks , for instance. For a more casual, younger look, a blouson or bomber jacket (there's an especially wide array in poplin and glazed cire) goes over a suit.

In his relaxed off hours, the male fashion plate can alternate between gentlemanly classic sports clothes with sweaters, "Urban Cowboy" Western gear, and looking like Nanook of the North in down puff-coats with bright fannel button-in linings.

This is the year when the city sophisticate who has resisted wearing velvet except in dinner jacket form may break down. He is offered the blazer fo velvet -- plain, cut, or printed -- which for rising young entrepreneur types, may be the way to go. Now who will be the first to wear it in the executive suite?

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