Fall menswear look is casual yet stylish

Ease and flexibility will continue to have center stage in male fashions this fall - but with little loss of sophistication. At the fall and winter press preview by the Men's Fashion Association at Rye Brook, N.Y., everything from board-room basics to weekend wear was shown in supple blue chip fabrics, knits, and leathers, as well as rich colorations and new soft construction.

All of which means that the relaxed attitude men get from sportswear is carrying over into the rest of their wardrobes - yet sophisticated styles will still let men look dapper.

As T.Thomas Gurtner, manager of menswear fashion services at the Wool Bureau, points out, ``The menswear industry worldwide is responding to such consumer demands by supplying an impressive variety of quality garments that convert easily from dress clothing to casual wear.''

The major focus is on single-breasted, natural-shoulder suits with half-linings and low notch lapels. For an international feeling, peaked lapels usually reserved for double-breasted suits appear more and more on two-button models. Dimensional weaves and patterns, especially plaid, bounce off one another in a subtle blending of earth tones, or strong black-and-white combinations shot with brights. The lively mix is called ``controlled clashing.''

Topcoats, which have transcended function to become high fashion, are increasingly popular with young men. They're longer, some hitting the ankle, but most measure 48 to 50 inches long. Brushed wools, tweeds, cashmeres, and even wool jerseys are key fabrics.

Warm shearlings are plentiful in rugged outdoor wear. Award-winning designer Robert Comstock, a man of adventure who personally tests his expedition-type clothes for proper function, featured shearling and leather coats. He also introduced interesting lamb jackets with very full bellows pockets, rubberized cotton duffel coats - and petroglyph prints (like carvings or line drawings on rock) on cotton knit turtlenecks.

Sweaters now spark the wardrobe in a way few garments can - with humor. Colorful wildlife designs, including bears, deer, ducks, and eagles, provide visual excitement - not to mention designer Tony Lambert's fun with pigs. In machine and hand-knits, pullovers with variations on the crew neck are front-runners. Oversize cardigans flash power patterns, mainly stripes.

Dress shirts are loosening up, appearing in fuller silhouettes. Tommy Hilfiger's classic shirts are good examples. Not only has he enlarged shirt bodies, but he has also dropped shoulders and made sleeve and yoke seams meet. This creates an uninterrupted line from neck to cuff.

Suspenders or braces have gained more and more momentum each season. Current ones are often patterned, while others, more casual, are in webbing, canvas, or leather. They project a jaunty note, but their basic function, of course, is to let pants hang better.

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