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For men: new elegance, color, comfort

A dignified dandyism is revving up in fall and winter menswear. Whether you call it a taste for luxury or a new status awareness, male elegance is having its day. That was seen at the semiannual preview by the Men's Fashion Association.

New pared-down suit shapes are tailored in rich wool, cashmere, and fine blends. Luxe layers may start with a long leather coat over a bulky sweater and patterned slacks; or, a tweed sport coat with matching trousers.

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Also supporting the trend are dashing overcoats and broader options in formalwear, including officers' mess jackets. And sweater manufacturers are on the most innovative design kick ever, with the help of computers.

Are prices galloping to keep pace with the spruced-up male image? No big increases are noted, although some price hikes can be expected in a new season.

Choices for fall range from dapper classics to rugged outdoor leathers and shawl-collared evening cardigans. If a man is daring, he can wear a blazer with jeans or a dinner jacket with a T-shirt. Cornerstone colors throughout men's collections are traditional navy, many gradations of gray (including silver for evening), and brown in multihues from deep amber to chocolate. Purple and teal blue are key accessory colors.

To improve jacket drape in many new single-breasted suits, the top button of two and the middle button of three have been lowered to hit exactly at the waist. In some models, the ``gorge,'' where the lapel meets the collar, also has been lowered, a style trick borrowed from the Italians for a smoother fit and dressier look.

As designer Henry Grethel points out, the new mood also accounts for the stepped-up interest in double-breasted styling, much of it generated by young men who are discovering the look for the first time.

Overcoats, also newly popular with young shoppers, have transcended utility to become high fashion. Lengths are longer, some measuring 48 inches, while the style range includes chesterfields, half-belted polo coats, full-belted ulsters, and raglan-shouldered balmacaans.

Yves Saint Laurent's overcoats, to which he adds dramatic flared backs, are among the longest seen anywhere. And the man who has $1,275 to spend on a new coat may want to check Roger Baugh's shearling-collared lambskin model. Balancing the picture are shorter stadium and the return of car coats.

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Perhaps in anticipation of a severe winter, rugged arctic-look outerwear is gaining momentum. Robert Comstock, a dedicated outdoorsman, features sturdy Indian-style suede jackets, some reversing to wool or fleece or equipped with removable sleeves. He also continues with his mountain-climbing outfits and Tibetan looks, the latter long, warm leather coats worn with enormous gauntlets and high, furry boots.

Jhane Barnes and the Bianculli design team (Paul Bianculli and Victor de la Rosa) have jumped on the computer-design bandwagon, creating colorful and distinctive new patterns in minutes, instead of hours and days. These they adapt to woven fabrics with handsome results, using as many as 60 different yarns to achieve a special effect.

All of which ties in with Jhane Barnes's philosophy about male dress. ``I'm still trying to get men to dress more authoritatively, more modern and comfortable,'' she says. ``I don't believe men are going to dress the same way forever, and I predict they will wear more knits in coming years than ever before.

``Clothes got too big in recent seasons. Today mine are oversized only where they need to be for comfort.''

The Bill Kaiserman collection focuses on smooth leathers and supple suedes, including a ``raked'' calfskin that resembles alpaca. Preferring to look forward, not back, Kaiserman says, ``We should stretch our abilities to come up with new classics.'' His new line features shoulder padding but narrow body shapes. He finds it a wearable look, because the average person is in better shape than 10 years ago.

In slacks, watch for more pleats and patterns; also suspender buttons, as increasing numbers of men discover ``braces.''

Accessory trends include assorted collars and deeper colors in business shirts, a return of underknot patterns on ties, figured hosiery (even for the office), and some street shoes with padded collars, as in running shoes. Hats are superlightweight.

Robust textures, colors, and imaginative designs in sweaters spell plenty of individuality for men, not to mention fun dressing.

Abstract art, bold geometrics, Nordic inspirations, and intarsias are very big in crew and V-neck pullovers. Reflecting the new elegance are Gianfranco Ruffini's fawn-colored wool-blend sweaters and handsome white shawl-collared double-breasted cardigans by Allyn St. George.

Among novel types are sweaters featuring chess and backgammon motifs by Robert Stock; and Joseph Rokaz's pullovers with knit-in suspenders. Rokaz also makes a tuxedo cardigan as a versatile alternative for dressy evenings.

In evening wear, formalwear-maker Raffinati this fall is introducing the first Robert Wagner collection of formalwear for men. In addition to traditional black tuxedos, still No. 1, expect to see officer's formal mess jackets, class Prince Albert cutaways, a Western-style tuxedo worn with a bola tie, and full-dress tails in silver.

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