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Tradition With a Twist : Bold Color and Easy Shapes Give Classic Menswear a Shot in the Arm

September 10, 1989|BARBARA FOLEY | Barbara Foley is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer

JUST WHEN MANY MEN WERE thinking their wardrobes had been finalized in a classical mode--Brooks Brothers, jeans or L. L. Bean--an unstoppable design force is moving in and shaking things up. In the same way that architects Michael Graves and Frank Gehry add iconoclastic colors and shapes to classical forms, designers are adding modernity without forsaking their strengths. They're infusing the classics with bold color. They're relaxing the traditional silhouette. And they're showing sophisticated combinations of fabrics.

The man who, in the past, stretched his style at the office with a yellow or red power tie will probably be the first to try the bolder, 3 3/8-inch print ties reminiscent of the '40s or a tie with buttonholes that attach to the buttons on his shirt. Men who first experimented with colored dress shirts will now choose shirts with fine details such as muted stripes in purple, teal or orange, hand-carved bone buttons or brightly colored solids in silk or fine cotton. Tasteful alternatives to ties and shirts are cashmere polo sweaters or mock turtlenecks.

The standard blazer and three-button jacket also are evolving. A stalwart traditionalist, Ralph Lauren introduced a relaxed sack suit with three buttons, a single vent and flat-front pants in his fall, 1988, collection. This conservative shape triggered a fast-moving trend that calls for all jackets to be roomy but not sloppy and have softer, rounder shoulders.

Although trimmer than the baggy shapes of the past, pants this season have a relaxed, yet elegantly draped look.

While the classic silhouette is still basically intact, designers are taking liberties with color. Even Giorgio Armani, who usually works with neutral colors, is combining red or orange scarfs and vests with subdued tones. The guideline for making the look work: The bolder the color, the simpler the shape. If the silhouette is avant-garde, keep the color discreet.

Fall menswear is also sparked with costly fabrics such as cashmere and silk. Fortunately, there's a way to avoid expensive blunders while adding a touch of style: Invest in separates. A tobacco-color jacket, for example, works well with gray or black slacks. A bright tie or vest in a luxury fabric will add after-hours flair. It is a liberated personal style that befits the advent of the '90s.

(Photographed by Diego Uchitel; stylist: Robert Trachtenberg / Cloutier;hair and grooming: Edward St. George / Cloutier; models: Barry Dillard / Omar's Men and Albert Solis / Omar's Men.)

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