At the start of this decade, all a man needed to look modern was something as simple as a Bill Clintonlike double-breasted suit, a checked shirt or a tie with, well, purple flowers. Remember how hip Al Gore looked in a Jerry Garcia tie?
But times and images have changed. Corporate clothes now run a wide gamut from a navy dress suit to a sweater vest. Informal dressing has taken on a certain priority. So an updated look is built around more casual items such as, say, a nylon jacket with a cell phone pocket, a turtleneck sweater or a briefcase with laptop space.
Certainly many men have little enthusiasm for the subject of fashion, and Bill Gates is doing just fine without it. But even for the man who is not a clothes hound, looking modern can be a plus, and options for polishing that wardrobe are available in a broad range of prices, shapes and colors.
Tom Julian, a New York-based trend analyst with Fallon Mc- Elligott agency, says it can be as easy as adding new khakis or black trousers. Buy a button-down shirt in a stripe or check pattern, he says. Look for a sweater in charcoal or olive.
"Stretch" is a buzzword among menswear pundits, and they don't mean running tights, muscle shirts or what you do at the gym. Rather it's the small touch of spandex used broadly in tailored clothes, dress shirts and even outerwear that gives them added shape and structure. At a time when men aren't likely to go overboard for anything strikingly different, lab-developed fabrics offer a subtle change.
Is stretch inevitable? Probably. Banana Republic is promoting it. Dan McCampbell, menswear director of Saks Fifth Avenue, puts stretch high on his list of should-haves. Is it widespread? Hardly.
Athletic-influenced clothes rank high among most menswear authorities, and they're not talking gym gear. Most likely it's a padded vest, a fleece shirt or pants.
Rubber-sole casual shoes often based on athletic shoe technology are on almost everyone's priority list. They're easily accessible from the likes of Hush Puppies and Kenneth Cole.
As for suits and jackets, the newest silhouettes are slightly closer to the body, with narrow lapels and shoulders. If your wardrobe is limited, the best investment is a classic that will not look dated soon, updated with a new shirt and a quiet tie in a matching or coordinated color.
Todd Epperley, menswear buyer for Halls, a Kansas City, Mo., specialty store, says the suit to add this fall is a dark-colored three-button style. In the era of business casual, it is a good basic because it can be dressed up with a shirt and tie for business or formal, and dressed down with a sweater or snazzy sport shirt.
Epperley also suggests a leather blazer and a shoulder bag. Leather is available at Banana Republic and the Gap as well as specialty stores.
The bags are made by such labels as Prada, Kenneth Cole and Banana Republic. The Gap has single-strap backpacks, which are worn over one shoulder.
At a time when looking prosperous, even for those who are not, is a coveted image, cashmere sweaters or silk shirts carry weight. A sterling silver belt buckle is a popular way of saying, "I'm successful."
Although grays, olive and pale blue stalked the menswear designer runways for fall, Saks' McCampbell endorses "something colorful," a sweater, say, in orange, a bright red or even a purple.
Ditto for the soft shirt jacket with light construction and a velvet shirt. And to mark the new millennium, a silver or winter white, perhaps in a tie, is on McCampbell's list.
If you're buying a tailored top coat, choose one to the knee or below. But a reversible quilted coat will mark you as modern, and it also will cover everything else you're wearing.