American men easing into the European cuts


CHICAGO -- Captains of industry. Lords of the jungle. Masters of the universe. Men will virtually knock each other down to be first except when it comes to fashion. Yet if nomenclature has anything to do with it, then the latest men's trend world-class style might at least catch the attention of those with Olympian obsessions.

Although it has the ring of a sporting event, world-class style actually represents a truce among rivaling fashion camps. "It use to be that the Japanese were known for their slick, hard fabrics, the English for their tweeds and nipped-in suit coats, the Italians for exaggerated shoulders and the Americans for soft shoulders. Now everyone is emerging with very similar (business) suit models," says Kenneth Hoffman, president and CEO of Hart Schaffner & Marx, a Chicago-based men's apparel manufacturer.

The expansion of global communications and the relaxing of designers' egos have sparked this compromise. "Today we are world citizens," observes Joseph Abboud, an American men's apparel designer. "It use to take much longer for fashion news to travel from country to country, but with news services like CNN, this is no longer true today."

"American designers are spending more time in Europe and Europeans are taking a closer look at what Americans are doing," theorizes Chip Tolbert, fashion director at the Men's Fashion Association in New York. "The world-class look is the most important step in the evolution of men's wear in at least 15 years."

"Usually any change in men's apparel is subtle the rise or lowering of a button, a leaning to or away from double-breasted jackets," says Shawny Burns, director of fashion for Bloomingdale's branch stores. "But world-class style is an entire head-to-toe silhouette change,"

Key elements of the world-class suit are:

* Wider shoulders: Suit jackets use to average about 18.5 inches from shoulder to shoulder, now they span up to 22 inches.

* Lower button stance on jackets, showing off more of the shirt and tie.

* Fabrics that drape more. Traditional patterns such as herringbones and tweeds are still around, but now there are lighter weights and unexpected colors such as petrol blues, olive and taupes.

* Fuller, pleated pants similar to those worn by Cary Grant during the '50s, although not as extreme.

RTC * Pleats on pants and lots of them. We're talking three and four pleats per side.

* Distinctive accessories the more color the better, particularly in ties. There's a kaleidoscope of new hues, including kiwi, mustard and burnt orange in a variety of floral, abstract and reto patterns.

The fashion industry touts comfort as one of the major drawing cards of world-class style suit jackets have wider shoulders with roomier armholes and chest cavities. Pants have fuller legs. "The look is far from sloppy, but is a much looser, easier fit men don't want to be in a straight jacket," says Bloomingdale's Burns.

"Just because a man is dressed up doesn't mean he has to be uptight," says Abboud, who is considered to best exemplify world-class style among American designers.

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