THIS FALL, THE BIGGEST FASHION NEWS FOR men should send them straight to the gym.

Suits have a narrower silhouette. Dress pants and jeans are slimmer, while jackets are trimmer and shorter. Padding is disappearing, along with that third button on sports coats.

"Everybody's in such good shape now, and they want to show it off," says Stephen Watson, fashion director of the high-end magazine Men's Vogue.

And what about the government's discouraging figures on obesity?

"The bigger guys should keep it simple," he says diplomatically, "and stay away from double-breasted jackets."

Don't think that because Baltimore is a conservative town it's not happening here. The change isn't extreme, says Edward Steinberg, president of J.S. Edwards, a Pikesville store that specializes in high-end classic fashion. But many styles fit closer to the body. "It's a little retro, a little '50s. It's more of a V look." Pants have fewer pleats and more flat fronts. There's more shaping in the leg.

He agrees with Watson. "Men are working out. They're more conscious than ever of their bodies."

As for the rest of you - well, luckily, not everything follows form this season.

Shoppers will find a hodgepodge of looks in the stores: the rugged outdoorsman, the CEO, the Big Man on Campus, and so on. They can pick and choose what works for them.

Trend analyst Tom Julian, who's been checking out stores from New York to Los Angeles, reports that this season is unusual because men can mix some of what he calls these "fall stereotypes" to get an updated look without becoming a fashion victim.

"It's a good everything-goes moment in fashion," agrees Watson.

You could wear one of this season's beautiful suit jackets as a blazer with jeans on the weekend, as Matthew Edelstein, Details magazine's fashion editor, does. Vintage British prep (a sweater vest perhaps?) looks great with a modern narrow leg pant or a military field jacket.

The past is present

Everyone knows that men's styles change at glacial speed compared to women's fashions. The best reason for buying new duds this fall isn't to be fashion-forward, but because there are some great-looking clothes out there.

Many of the styles are inspired by the past. They have clean lines, refined touches and luxurious fabrics. What brings them up to date is color - or the lack thereof, says Edelstein. "The absence of color is what makes these clothes look modern. Gray, black, navy and white is what every well-dressed man should be wearing this fall."

You can find these clothes at every price point, says Julian, who is senior vice president and strategic director of trends for the advertising agency McCann Erickson. "Since we are at a point of more high fashion in menswear - designer names, global labels, luxury looks - no matter where a man shops, from the specialty shop to the department store to the mass store, a lot of these looks are available."

Stephen Watson of Men's Vogue has his eye on the Brunello Cucinelli cashmere sports jacket in gray that appeared recently in the magazine.

"It's unconstructed and so soft it's like a sweater," he says. "With jeans or cords it looks really terrific."

The only problem? It costs $2,000.

Casually luxurious

In Baltimore you can get these luxury looks for less than that at places like Gian Marco, an upscale Italian clothier on North Charles Street.

"It's a big year for suedes, soft fabrics, cords with cashmere in them," says Marc Sklar, one of the owners. Texture is important. You'll find these clothes in earthier tones than in the past, he says; in fact, something in brown is one of fall's must-haves.

Edward Hyatt, an owner of Hyatt & Co., the local chain of fashion-forward specialty stores, says a cashmere jacket is also a must-have for men this fall. Velvet - at least in blazers - is being embraced by Baltimore men, a trend that started last fall.

While many of these luxury fabrics are combined with casual styles (Macy's has a hoodie in cashmere), the move toward dressier dressing continues. Tyler Thoreson of the fashion Web site Men.Style.com describes seeing a co-worker at the end of the day changing from Friday business casual into a suit.

"It's the return of the fitted, three-piece suit," he says - maybe not for work, but to look great on a date.

The countertrend to these dressier clothes is what Thoreson calls the New Frontiersman. It's been variously described as post-Civil War, rugged, cowboy and country. Pop culture influences like Brokeback Mountain and Deadwood are a big part of the reason for its current popularity. (In fact, Deadwood costume designer Janie Bryant is doing a line for Billy Martin's western wear.)

We're seeing a lot of thicker wools, vests, henleys, suspenders, bandannas, Confederate-style military jackets with brass buttons and plaid flannel shirts in the stores this fall. Top it off with a derby and add a gold pocket watch. Maybe even grow some facial hair. Or not.

Designer lines like Marc by Marc Jacobs featured the look on their runways (there was a double-breasted duster Wyatt Earp could have worn); and you'll find plenty of mass-market examples from companies like J. Crew.

The retailer is offering a tweed vest that's doing really well, says Todd Snyder, J. Crew's head designer of menswear. It looks good with a broken-in oxford shirt and jeans or cords. The idea, of course, is not to do the New Frontiersman head to toe.

"It's not a look for everyone," cautions Thoreson. "That's what it's all about - finding your way through all this."

Whether you're the velvet blazer type or more likely to buy a plaid flannel shirt this fall, one item of clothing is a constant: a pair of premium jeans. Torn and faded is out; this fall's jeans have a dark wash and slim cut.

"It encompasses every age," says Steinberg, whose store currently carries five different lines. "People are trying on jeans who never have before. It's not unusual for them to spend $150 to $175 on a pair."


Fall must-haves

Trend analyst Tom Julian suggests this checklist for shoppers this fall:

Something brown in rich, dark shades of chocolate and mocha for anything from footwear to outerwear.

Something corduroy -- but never wear cord on cord.

Some dark denim. Ripped, torn and worn looks a bit dated.

Something tailored, such as a two-button silhouette sports coat.

Something unexpected like a zip-front sweater, military field jacket or separate vest.

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