Things are getting very subdued out there in the world of men's clothing.
After an entire decade devoted to encouraging men to care about what they wear, the time has come for guys to sit back and be comfortable.
This spring, the hottest looks in the men's market are those that require little thought. Polo shirts and chinos, sport jackets and button-down shirts and lots of unassuming suits are bringing a feeling of understandable calm to the world of men's dressing.
Forget about French cuffs. The man of the day rolls up his shirt sleeves the old fashion way.
OFFICE ATTIRE For the most part, it's a single-breasted, three-button, notch-collar world out there, but the good news is that men with a little imagination can have a field day with color.
"Right now the biggest change we're seeing in our suit department is the rebirth of neutrals like olive, tan and mustard," says Mike Waters, vice president of marketing for Joseph A. Bank Clothiers. "We're seeing these colors as total suit looks, but most importantly as stripes or subtle checks in our more traditional suits. The burgundy or teal patterns that are usually woven into the classic navy suit will always be popular, but these new color combinations offer men the opportunity to update while still wearing a conservative look."
At A. J. Borenstein's Eclectic, updated looks mean suits that continue to get softer around the edges. More rounded shoulder pads, fuller arms, looser trousers and draped fabrics continue to be popular with the more fashion-aware customers. Although they may not be as rigid as the conservative suits carried by most retailers, Eclectic's collection still falls into the category of mainstream dressing.
"The days of trying to look very styled are long gone," says Arnold Borenstein, owner of Eclectic. "Our customers want to be noticed for themselves, not for their clothes."
The must-have wardrobe stretcher for spring is the relaxed dress shirt.
While most men still rely heavily on the classic spread-collar, white cotton variety, a new, dressed-down feeling is picking up speed in the men's shirt market.
"What we're seeing more than anything this season is the weekend shirt being carried over to the office," says Mr. Waters. "For many men, it's a classic chambray shirt that, when pressed, can go right to work with a navy suit and floral tie."
According to Mr. Waters, another big shirt look this season comes from textured fabrics. Oxford cloths and cotton/linen blends are the two top choices for both suits and sportswear.
And for those who enjoy experimenting with color, dusty pastels and bright awning stripes are providing a great background for abstract print ties.
"These shirts make great crossover looks. You can wear them buttoned up with a tie for work and then put them on with a pair of jeans and sport coat for the weekend. Our customers are really getting a lot of wear out of them," he says.
At the Hecht Co., the bright- on-neutral tie is one of the season's hottest selling men's furnishings. "Floral prints and conversational patterns are very, very popular," says Nancy Chistolini, vice president for creative merchandising for Hecht's. But they're not bright, bright ties that look loud or overpowering. These blend colors like teal or royal blue with a neutral background such as tan or warm brown. The mixes are interesting and colorful without looking outrageous."
Ms. Chistolini says that these ties are most often bought to go with the navy and neutral mix suits, but they also go well with more casual looks.
DRESSING DOWN For most men, a day off still means denim. But with the lines between office and weekend continually blurring, the importance dressed-up sportswear is still on the rise. The key, however, is keeping it casual, because no man wants to feel uptight on Friday night.
"As office wear becomes less and less structured, we keep seeing a refining in the sportswear category. Many men are looking for weekend clothes that can also go to the office once in a while," says Mr. Borenstein. "We're very big into the 'new basics' idea. They are basic pieces done in terrific fabrics and made with a looser fit. If they didn't feel so comfortable, you would almost think they weren't sportswear."
One example of these new basics is softly draped, navy crepe pants that can go with everything from a linen jacket and upbeat tie, to a cotton mock turtleneck and loafers.
Mr. Borestein also suggests oversized oxford cloth shirts cuwide through the chest and arms. "It's a great casual look when you don't want to bother with a jacket, and it can also work well as a special shirt for the office."
For Mike Waters, the best sportswear look for this spring is linen. "I don't think there's anything that looks cooler or more comfortable than linen. I love the look of pleated linen pants and a plain shirt."
Of course most men don't love the look of the wrinkles that come along with this natural fiber.
"That's why you consider it sportswear. If you want to look well-pressed you might as well wear a suit and tie," he says.
FOR THE FUNK OF IT While most men spend hours searching for the perfect something that will fit in with the rest of their wardrobe, some guys look for clothes that will stand out in a crowd.
For the trying-to-be-noticed crowd, batiks and ethnic prints are the quick ticket to attention.
"Batik print pants are one of the hottest items in our men's contemporary division," says Ms. Chistolini. "Five years ago you would have never thought that a man would wear such wild prints and bold, bright colors -- and especially not as pants -- but the whole emphasis on ethnic culture and apparel has brought them into the limelight. Some guys come in and ask to see the most outrageous color combinations we have. They just can't get enough of them."
Still others with a passion for prints prefer to wear their true colors on the inside. At Joseph A. Banks the hottest selling fashion accessories in the store are wildly patterned and boldly colored boxer shorts. Featuring everything from '70s inspired smiley faces to sportier golf and football motifs, this outrageous underwear is adding a -- of fun to even the most conservative button-down look.
And for those guys who like the look of bike shorts, but not the revealing shape of body-hugging Lycra, the Gap is now offering a denim version. Made with the same, five-pocket styling of its classic jeans, but tapered to a slim fit that ends just above the knee, these new short shapes look great with an oversized sweater or big shirt worn untucked.