Clothes become a soft touch when men shed workday uniforms Summer Break


"TC A change of seasons and fashions touches men in subtle ways.

Not for them the sweeping shifts in trouser length from mid-calf to mid-thigh. Men are pretty much locked into wearing pants cuffs somewhere in the ankle region.

Not for them sleevelessness in the hot weeks ahead. Gentlemen are still expected to keep their armpits to themselves, and many of them are also stuck with the daily suit-with-tie work uniform.

It is in casual attire that men have a chance to break out new fashion ideas, and that may even include the enlightened workplace that encourages "Casual Fridays" during the muggy months.

This spring, there's news in menswear, dramatic and traumatic.

* The Nehru jacket is back. Not for everyone. We're hearing guffaws from the men who remember the '60s and the Maharishi, Sinatra's Rat Pack and the fewcountry club fashion victims whose wives managed to talk them into a more "youthful" look. Johnny Carson may even have sported a Nehru of his own menswear label.

The new Nehru, which may now be called a Bombay or Colonial or band-collar jacket, has the same stand-up collar and row of buttons, but is cut of softer cloth and more relaxed lines to give it the feel of a shirt. It looks more natural because it is done in cotton, linen and silk blends and not the industrial-strength polyester of the original. It's an ideal alternative for occasions when a shirt is not enough and a jacket and tie seem too formal.

* Jackets have narrowed. Three-button jackets of a slightly longer cut are the shape to come. It's the old Ivy League sack suit with fewer underpinnings and less press. Fashion-forward designers show it with the top button done up for that wimpy hunk effect. Regular guys would probably do better with the second button. Some four-button jackets have cropped up in designer collections, but they seem mostly suitable for stand-up posing.

* Shirts have lost their collars. The newest shirt has no collar or merely a band. It's a take on great-grandfather's style that had removable collars for laundering. Worn alone, it has a finished look that is impossible to achieve with a T-shirt. It also dresses down and freshens up a suit or jacket.

* Color has gone natural. During hot months, texture and tints that repel heat have the most appeal. Think ripe fields of flax, oat, wheat, wild rice and barley, and you get the feel and color of the summer's offerings. When true color is introduced, it is derived from natural dyes such as indigo and ocher.

* Vests have jacket status. They're replacing T-shirts as the item to collect for quick-change situations. Young men wear them alone, in lieu of a T-shirt, or over a T for a totally cool stance. Vests can pair with a linen shirt for parties on the patio. They can even be worn with a summer suit for a kick of color.

* The sophisticated man now wears rustic accessories. Forget shine; the finishing touches of summer look nubby and hand-wrought. Belts may be of canvas webbing, macrame or braided leather. Shoes step into the peasant mode as woven leather sandals, espadrilles or the ubiquitous Birkenstocks.

Jewelry has no place in a man's wardrobe now -- a sensible watch, a sculpted matte ring, or small earring, perhaps. The new fashion generation may have resurrected the Nehru jacket, but had enough sense to keep flashy gold pendants and chains buried in time.


Styling by Pascale LeMaire

Models: Jason Umidi/New Faces and Mark Sears/Nova Models

Grooming by Dawn Wolf for Etches Salon

Fashions: White Nehru jacket, $695, and windowpane trousers, $225, by Everett Hall at J.S. Edwards. Band-collared shirt, $78, by Westlake at Nordstrom. Striped vest, $175, by Basco at Eclectic.

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