For men, vested suit loses favor

The man whose wardrobe needs updating for spring will find a wide range of possibilities. Five days of style seminars and designer presentations for the national press in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Men's Fashion Association of America (MFA), featured a marathon parade of authoritative double-breasted suits for business, super new lightweight fabrics that tailor well, and an unprecedented range of spirited colors for sportswear.

Clothing confidence for the '80s, whether for business, casual, or formal wear - that's the aim.

As Chip Tolbert, MFA fashion director, told reporters, ''Subtlety and conservatism continue to dominate tailored clothing, but in leisure-wear, designers and manufacturers have pulled out all the stops.''

Signs for spring point to navy, banker's gray, and fresh misty mixes for dress and business in new treatments of such old fabric favorites as tropical worsted, poplin, polyester blends, silk, and linen. Many are textured for heightened interest.

Later, when the weather gets steamy, a man can slip into that trusty old standby, a seersucker suit, and remain comfortable.

Double-breasted suits are getting good acceptance for spring, according to industry spokesmen. The new models have higher gorges (the point where lapel and collar join) than earlier styles, which gives an illusion of height.

Does this mean the vested suit is dead?

No. But as Norman Karr, the MFA executive director, explained, ''Their numbers are declining.''

Despite the appeal of Jack Bannon's vest-wearing image on the old Lou Grant TV show, the point was made that a man sitting at a desk usually doesn't like the confinement of a vest. And if he's wearing a jacket, he leaves it unbuttoned when seated. It's a matter of comfort.

Blazers, first introduced nearly 60 years ago, are popular for spring, in colors ranging from traditional navy to pastels and even purple.

For those who say bright colors crop up every summer, only to vanish in the fall, let it be known that more and more men are getting their personal color charts and becoming increasingly aware of what different colors can do for them. So strong colors will continue into fall.

In casual coats, summer tweeds in soft shades and subtle patterns look like winners. Plaids and checks are popular, too, while safari styling appears in a number of lines. Calvin Klein's safari jackets are full and elasticized at the waist, DiMitri shows safari jackets with pegged sport trousers, some with bellows pockets and zippered legs.

On the subject of coats, a panel of menswear retailers representing major stores across the United States noted that a man trying on a jacket first checks the sleeve length and fit through the body (both easy to alter), but should give first attention to the shoulder line and the way a collar hugs the neck.

Accessories add to the appeal of this season's clothes. Spiffy looks to spark any wardrobe include spring's beautifully coordinated shirts and slightly wider ties, updated boater hats (so lightweight they feel no heavier that a paper party hat), and colorful suspenders.

The widespread acceptance of suspenders with tailored clothing is something of a mystery in the industry. Suspenders (or braces) have long been a signature in the Alan Flusser line, but suddenly they're turning up everywhere.

Aside from holding up pants as a change from belts, one reason for the new popularity of suspenders could be that they can spark a somber outfit with a dash of color, since they come in wonderful rainbow hues.

New among business shirts are those with contrasting white collars on both solid-color and patterned shirts. Newer still is a colored collar that picks up the key tone of a patterned body.

Madras is back for sport shirts. Allyn St. George likes pastel madras, while Cesarani and Robert Stock stick with more traditional blues and reds. Then there's Ron Chereskin's lively mix of many colors, pale and bold.

The banded or pajama-collar shirt has resurfaced. Pure linen T-shirts may be the ultimate in casual elegance, but they're expensive - around $90. Andrew Fezza takes this sporty idea a step further with his plaid linen shirts coordinated to linen slacks.

Spectators at the menswear event did a double take when some models wore long ties with wing collars, until it was explained this is a funky look, intended for almost any hour of the day, if the mood strikes.

For spring, ''urban cowboy'' and designer jeans are being upstaged by overdyed and stone-washed denims. Also, a new summer-weight corduroy, called ''Ultra Cord,'' may cut in on denim territory. A blend of polyester and cotton, it is very fine and soft to touch, and can be handled in a way heavier corduroy never could.

Rounding out the sportswear scene are vivid sweater vests, knit cardigans, walk shorts, tennis looks (classic white, splashed with color), and beachwear combinations like pullover blousons of nylon with matching trunks.

Chintz, an unexpected swimwear entry, appears in coordinated pieces.

Stanley Blacker's collection recalls a time when people traveled on the 20th Century Limited and the Queen Mary. He showed pleated and cuffed walk shorts, double-breasted red blazers with white hopsacking slacks, a white broadcloth shirt, and navy bow tie. Chambray and seersucker reinforce the nostalgic mood.

But with all the talk of spiffing up for spring and summer in vivid colors, collections left no doubt about the continuing importance of the quiet navy-blue suit for corporate dressing. Such appropriate dress gives a man credibility, very necessary in today's world.

While knowing what's new in any season is a big help to shoppers, knowing how to get the most value is the tricky part. Here are a few tips:

* In better-made garments, the lining is tailored and lies flat. In poorly constructed garments, the lining can pucker because workmanship is shoddy and cheaper materials are used.

* Seams should always be smooth, never pull. When plaid and striped fabrics are used, the patterns should line up perfectly at seams.

* Be sure that points on lapels are well defined and that collars on all garments are contoured to cling at the neck.

* In sweaters, the looser the knit, the more likely it is to stretch out. It is better to choose full-fashioned sweaters that allow the knit to retain its original shape through many wearings.

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