Men's designers see a time to step back, blend in

Mon Feb 16, 2009 2:37pm EST
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Just as flush times gave traditionally staid menswear permission to loosen up, a grim economy is dictating a back-to-basics gravitas and a return to serious business attire.

Menswear, never in the vanguard of U.S. fashion, is looking to tried-and-true staples of a good suit, shirt and shoes that signal stability, focus and solvency, say fashion experts taking stock of the collections showing at New York's Fashion Week.

"These are times that tend to homogenize fashion," said Alan Flusser, author of "Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion." In menswear, he said, that means clothes that "project a sense of importance, security and continuity."

"People want to look like they're working. You're going to see more men looking for interview-esque clothes than ever before," he said.

The collections at New York's Fashion Week bear that out. Hundreds of designers are showing both men's and women's lines at the semi-annual event that ends on Friday.

Calvin Klein's largely monochromatic collection reflected lean times, with slim silhouettes stripped of detail. Suits, shirts and ties all rendered from the same fabric comprised single outfits.

While some futuristic molded foam sculpted pants and jackets lightened the mood a bit, a bevy of proper cashmere topcoats relied on conservative fabrics such as tweed, herringbone, houndstooth and a workmanlike twill.

Richard Chai's first menswear show featured gray and more gray, with a host of peacoats, military jackets and a boxy, short-waisted schoolboy jacket suggesting institutional conformity -- none so much as a waxed denim jacket reminiscent of Mao's Cultural Revolution.   Continued...

<p>Model Tyson Beckford attends the Y-3 Fall 2009 collection during New York Fashion Week in New York February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>