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Fashion: FALL ISSUE : MENSWEAR : Value and Versatility


Men who want to look style savvy this fall won't have to spend hours shopping. And they won't have to put a lot of effort into their choices.

That's because menswear designers recommend augmenting this season's wardrobe with a few versatile items: a softly constructed blazer, a car coat, a durable chambray or plaid shirt, an intricately patterned sweater and a well-worn pair of denim jeans. No need to start from scratch.

Designers have named the newest item of all the hybrid sport coat, a soft, slouchy jacket so lightly constructed it could almost pass as an outer shirt.

Once a favorite of Victorian English gentleman prohibited from working in shirt sleeves, this 1990s version, most often in crunchy wool crepe or spongy wool double-knit, was reinvented by Giorgio Armani several seasons ago.

At that time, American men were adjusting to the lean look of three-button sport coats and were unprepared for such a dramatic silhouette change.

Some might not be ready for this new look. Designers suggest they update their basic blue, brown and gray clothing instead, with a blazer in one of the season's new earth colors--rust, mustard, olive, taupe.

For the man with a little more daring, however, the hybrid jacket, in the collections of such diverse designers as Bill Robinson, Perry Ellis, Joseph Abboud and newcomer Rick Dunnington, will do double duty. It is tailored and dressy enough to wear with a tie to the office. But worn loose as an untucked shirt, as designer Andrew Fezza's is, or belted, as Dolce & Gabbana's is, the look easily translates into casual street wear.

"Value above status is the reason for the popularity of the hybrid jacket," says Chip Tolbert, fashion director for the Men's Fashion Assn. "Its ability to be worn for various purposes and occasions" makes it an essential fall component.

Another addition to the L.A. man's wardrobe is the three-quarter-length car coat. This often bulky alternative to a leather bomber jacket may seem impractical here, but it works because of menswear's recent return to lighter fabrics.

The coats, said to be inspired by the TV show "Northern Exposure," come in everything from soft canvas and poplin to nylon, silk and the newest luxury fabric, silk-like polyester micro-fiber.

And like the hybrid sport coats, they are versatile. Pendleton, Girbaud, Ruff Hewn and CP Company show the car coat over jeans or casual twill trousers, while designers Bill Robinson, Tommy Hilfiger, Henry Grethel and Ron Chereskin layer it over a blazer or fancy textured sweater.

Although strong interest in tailored jackets has hurt the knit business, fall sweaters, especially the intricately stitched versions by Jhane Barnes and Claiborne for Men, should be in demand.

Some makers give the sweaters a vintage interpretation by tucking them into trousers and topping them off with suspenders. Others show them in place of last year's vests, worn over a tailored shirt and tie.

With everyone from Ralph Lauren/Polo to The Gap promoting plaid as part of the season's rugged theme, the versatile man's wardrobe should incorporate some variation, from glens and houndstooths to tartans and tattersalls.

Although everything from lightweight bomber jackets to blazers and casual pants falls into the plaid spectrum, many designers believe shirts are the most wearable option.

Chambray and plaid provide the perfect toppers for jeans as well as serve as dress shirts in many fall collections. Designer Barry Bricken, a master at mixing textures, layers a tweed check wool topcoat over a subtle glen plaid cotton sport shirt and windowpane-patterned wool trousers, all in rich olive hues.

And jeans makers Rifle, Diesel, Guess and Levi's opt for casual plaid shirts paired with colored denim trousers and even overalls.

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