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COLOR PLAY Just a splash adds quite a dash to men's clothing


When it comes to wearing color, too many men either abuse it or ignore it. The abusers are enthusiastic but unenlightened.

The mature ones tend to restrict color to golf wear - and then they really let it rip. You'll see those silver-haired rascals all spiffed up for the Saturday night social in their kelly green trousers and yellow blazers. They're kind of cute in a dad sort of way, but way off the fashion track.

Younger abusers often resort to loud Hawaiian shirts or noisy floral ties as proof of their laid-back style.

Then there are the non-participants, who are so afraid of looking anything like the former, they avoid color like the plague. It's a pity these guys associate color with vulgarity - because, used judiciously, color can turn any man on to style.

Since the work uniform for so many men necessitates an unremarkable suit and red tie, their best chance for some color play is in relaxed separates.

We're looking at the dressy/casual mode, a menswear look which may sound like an oxymoron. It's especially important now that even conservative businesses are encouraging "dress down" office days in summer, and fine restaurants are stretching attire etiquette.

Designers have introduced so many more menswear colors, some guidance is in order for guys who may be slightly color-impaired.

"Men here are getting a little more fashion-forward," says Eddie Steinberg, owner of J.S. Edwards in Pikesville.

The problem, he says, is getting them to make that first big leap into a different color. "Once they get comfortable with one accent color, they come back for more. They treat it as a bit of a challenge."

The colors he's talking about can range from soft ice cream colors to saturated jewel tones.

"Lightweight, softer jackets lend themselves to more experimentation," says Mr. Steinberg.

"Somehow a jolt of color is easier to accept with an unconstructed jacket which doesn't have all the guts of a traditional sport coat."

The vest is another new way to carry on with color. Among the young and fit, it replaces the T-shirt as this year's base under a relaxed jacket. It's a hot look in the videos and magazines - and particularly handsome in exotic ethnic prints and colors.

But what sizzles on MTV may fizzle in Maryland.

"Let's be real," says Mr. Steinberg, "how many guys in Baltimore are ever going to wear that look?" He suggests a more refined way to go - a basic T with the vest, then the jacket. It's a contemporary look without too much bare skin. The vest works the way a tie does: it adds an extra color splash.

How to match colors? Tom Julian, spokesman for the Men's Fashion Association, narrows the unlimited options down to two directions.

"Naturals in monochromatics are the strong color story for the season. The tones vary from ecru to taupe, from off-white to pure white. There is a washed, softened feel to the colors and it becomes easy to introduce colors into that wardrobe," says Mr. Julian.

The key word is "naturals." With neutral naturals, any color with a name born in nature will work. Think raspberry red, blueberry blue, mint green, warm peach, banana yellow, celery, delphinium purple, deep coral - you get the picture.

But primary brights are still important, says Mr. Julian. Choose shades with an industrial ring - fire engine red, chrome yellow, turf green, boathouse blue.

"The easiest approach is using a solid base - white, black, navy and then an accent," he says.

Sounds easy enough for anybody.

Arnold Borenstein, creative director of men's merchandising for Hecht's, says color is the least expensive way to introduce fashion currency into a wardrobe, especially for summer clothing, which costs less than winter's suits and coats.

"A man's clothes have to be reasonable. Not many can go for the limited one-season purchase," says Mr. Borenstein. "I track designer and international trends to keep in touch with the upper end, which will always trickle down. When the designer dust settles, color trends become available to every man.

"What's in store now is very romantic - peaches, plums and summer mint green. Also the deep intense blues and bottle greens.

"Men should experiment, but it's not important to be the first guy in the world with four pleats in your purple pants."

In other words, guys, remember: Kelly green does not occur in nature!

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