American men prefer their fashion the way they prefer just about everything—simple and uncomplicated. Outfitting guys from season to season usually is an easy matter, because men’s styles don’t change as frequently as women’s.
But sometimes there’s significant meaning behind the visual messages, and the menswear outlook for next fall-and winter portends transition, an in-between time of waiting for the next watershed event to turn the fashion world on its ear. Reflecting trends on European runways, American designers presented collections last month at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City that acknowledge past but point clearly to the future.
The telltale signs are in the contrasts, juxtapositions and dualities that showed up in so many collections, all imbued with a sense of adventure. In the words of various menswear designers: the rugged combined with the refined, volume with tailored, dressy but messy, rebellion versus tradition, no rhyme or reason.
Shortly after menswear designer Robert Geller succinctly described his inspiration as “somewhere in between,” New York Times writer Jon Caramanica summarized many of the fall collections as indicative of a modern menswear “tug of war between upholding a set of traditions and embracing a set of disruptions.”
So, what exactly does that look like? Sixties-reminiscent pants tailored as skinny as stovepipes, worn with top layers of roomy sweaters, jackets and coats. Coats with less structure, soft shoulders and raglan sleeves. Oversized biker jackets and quilted down coats cut leaner and meaner. Large scarf-cape hybrids that blanket a dramatic silhouette, conjuring images of a debonair nomad. Felt brims, big square bags and turtlenecks for everything from jeans to suits.
Among experts noting the direction of menswear is Tom Julian, men’s fashion director for The Doneger Group, a respected merchandising and retail consulting firm in New York City. Julian, a Pittsburgh native, observed significant trends such as designer-like sneakers, tailored versions of comfortable sweat pants dubbed “jogger pants” and the so-called weekend blazer, a jacket with tailored functional elements such as quilting and lining.
But the most significant newness he notes is in outerwear and knitwear.
“Menswear designers have realized that there is more to the winter wardrobe than the parka or the topcoat. We saw many offerings that merged function with fashion, luxury with man-made, traditional with nontraditional. It is no secret that the techno jacket will be a top item for fall 2014. The knitwear story is all about a knit sweater that acts as an outerwear piece—it gets lined and has a distinct hardware element for closure.”
These new styles for guys tend to be colored dark, comfortable ground for American men regardless of season. Black is ubiquitous, from monochromatic outfits to ensembles punctuated with white trim. Green is a key color, especially darker shades such as olive and military, and berry shades make an appearance.
The dark color schemes combined with an abundance of leather as trim or entire garments is likely to appeal to American men, says fashion blogger Quentin D. Washington, who routinely covers fashion week in New York for his AvenueSwank.com site.
“Designers that tend to stay with the classic menswear theme also moved into the darker, avant-garde aesthetic,” he notes. “I think this is because the American man is ready to be more expressive with their style. I see a change in how men value fashion, and more and more, there are men willing to take risks. As long as there is a balance between classic and expressive, men will feel comfortable pushing the envelope.”
Julian adds that men’s fashion trends reflect “a strong Millennial influence,” the impact of a younger generation on what designers create and what retailers buy. There’s also the factor of men on the go being multidimensional and desiring clothes that allow them to dress for an entire day, not just the job, he says.
“American men are receptive to new items that help to evolve the look or move the guy into a modern zone. Men are more interested in dressing contemporary. We know that anything technical connects with most men because of their need for information and wanting to be educated. Menswear in 2013 reached more than $60 billion in sales, and that is the largest number to date.”
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