Stretching men's clothing to the limit


They look like typical men's work and weekend clothes. Touch them, wear them, even swing on a flying trapeze in them -- they'll feel almost as comfy as workout clothes. The secret: a stretch fiber called spandex.

Andrew Fezza, Michael Kors, Jhane Barnes, Robert Amerigo, Sabato Russo and the Falke Group's Niels Bastrup are among the designers stretching clothes to the limit for fall.

Spandex -- best known as the brand name Lycra -- has been around in men's athletic clothes for years, but not until this year have designers given it new life in sport coats, sweaters, suit trousers and casual shirts.

Some designers use spandex to give clothes a lean silhouette. They're as fitted as bike shorts in the case of Andrew Fezza's leggings for his new Fez line, or somewhere between skin-tight and moderately loose, as is the case with the Falke Group's corduroy stirrup pants.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell if pants have spandex unless you're wearing them. The stretch fibers used in pleated wool pants by Robert Amerigo and traditional sport coat and pants manufacturer Hart Schaffner & Marx aren't obvious, but they work visible wonders.

Worn on a long drive or on a train to a business meeting, these pants will wrinkle less and drape more fluidly by the time you arrive for your appointment.

Spandex can make a suit jacket, sport coat or sweater more comfortable. A Michael Kors sport coat with stretch fibers allows more ease. You can move around without tearing the back or sleeve seams of your jacket. And sit down without unbuttoning your jacket first.

Stretch fibers allow a more body-conscious, sexy fit. A man who has spent hours at the gym and wants to show off muscles at a dance club can count on Fez T-shirts and Sabato Russo pants with a lot of spandex to flatter his physique.

In most cases, the amount of spandex is 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on how much elasticity the designer wants. The spandex is blended with another fabric, usually wool or cotton.

At the recent Men's Fashion Association fall preview, designers sounded off on incorporating spandex in their fall collections:

Jhane Barnes: "I can take a lightweight shirt fabric, add Lycra, and get a sweater that is very lightweight, hardly stretches out of shape, has a lot of depth and texture, intricate patterns and rich color."

Andrew Fezza: "Men want to be sexy. They want to show off their bodies. In some clothes, they can go from the gym into a nightclub without looking like they're wearing athletic clothes."

Robert Amerigo: After sitting for hours on a plane . . . men want clothes that keep their good looks.

Lightweight, trans-seasonal fabrics with the sophistication and performance characteristics offered by Lycra -- this is the trend for today."

Michael Kors: "There's something amazing about putting on a jacket that has Lycra in it. Visually, you have no idea it's there, and all of a sudden, you feel it [move] with you."

Niels Bastrup: "Lycra is essential in our casual looks in both wovens and in sweaters, for a comfortable fit. With Lycra, a little means a lot."

Sabato Russo: "Lycra adds softness and comfort to clothes, and it allows me to experiment. It makes fabrics modern, and fabrics are what will change fashion most in the future."

All these benefits come with a price. Incorporating spandex with non-stretchable fibers requires technology and, for designers who create their own fabrics, complicates the process. The addition of Lycra increases the cost of Jhane Barnes' wool sweaters by about 20 percent, for example.

But for those who prize comfort, quality and long-lasting design, the designers believe it will be a worthwhile investment.

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