Menswear, the perennial poor relation of women's high fashion, stepped it up a notch last week, as New York runways reflected men's rising interest in fashion.
At New York's Fashion Week which ran last week, designers and style watchers said suits were the hot sellers.
"It's about guys who are 30 buying suits," said Tyler Thoreson, head of Gilt Groupe's menswear editorial and creative divisions.
"The sort of traditional boxy suit your dad wore to work is not what these guys are wearing. What these guys are wearing is less formal and it's much more stylish."
Men have started following fashion blogs and they're looking to dress up, said menswear designer Michael Bastian.
"The customer, this young guy, is really educated, reads every blog, is all over the internet and he really has high expectations with his tailored clothing," Bastian said.
With the luxury menswear market growing at about 14 per cent a year, or nearly double that of luxury womenswear, according to consultancy Bain & Co, the financial stakes are high.
"High fashion menswear used to be a bit of a joke, but it's becoming a genuine influence. It's beginning to duplicate women's wear," said David Wolfe, creative director of retail consultants Doneger Group.
A demographic that was once "style conscious young men and very label conscious," is "now grown up, and bringing that same style sensitivity and label snobbery as adults," Wolfe said.
Tom Julian, author and retail trends expert, noted growth in the expanding $US50 billion-plus menswear arena for clothing such as jeans, knits and accessories.
Julian cited major retailers like Saks adding a denim room, and Ralph Lauren's new Rugby concept. With about a dozen stand-alone stores, Rugby specialises in edgier styling and lower prices targeting younger shoppers than Ralph Lauren's traditional clientele.
"There is more interest in tailoring touches for sportswear," he noted. Accordingly, "casual has shifted beyond what was - khakis and button-downs. Unstructured or knit jackets, sweater jackets and the like allow for layering and individualising."
The collections at New York's Fashion Week, when hundreds of designers show both men's and women's fall lines, bore that out.
And like the women's shows, some of which displayed hallmarks of popular 1920s-era films, menswear took a page from the popular Downton Abbey British TV series, set on the eve of the 20s, with heavy use of cord, velvet and grosgrain trims and round-collar shirts.
Dressed up casual
Wolfe characterised the looks as "much more well-behaved than 'rebel rocker,'" while Julian noted that "men have embraced colour in unexpected ways - a bright coloured check shirt, the coloured chinos, the coloured shoes."
"Many men today like the idea of taking a tailored item like a blazer or a necktie and making it less formal to play into their look," Julian noted.
Tommy Hilfiger's ambitious show on Friday reflected trends seen throughout the week: quilted sleeves and vests, lots of narrow horizontal stripes, high-collared doubled breasted coats topping striped vertiginous turtlenecks.
While Hilfiger showed a lot of leather, it was softer, nonthreatening and decidedly non-biker. Unstructured jackets suggested English schoolboys, while colours included dark rose, grays, mustard, teal and lots of reds.
John Bartlett, who once hewed closely to militaristic influences, showed plaid vests, checked pants that suggested pyjamas and blanket coats that paid homage to LL Bean's Hudson Bay classic. Even his motorcycle and racing jackets revealed softer, less-structured tailoring. Splashes of yellow and orange livened the looks even more.
Plaids and checks also figured highly at Duckie Brown's show, which made heavy use of textured gray and charcoal fabrics including tweeds. Crocheted sleeveless tops typified many of the relatively un-macho looks.
Richard Chai's show meanwhile was dominated by denim and blue work clothes, featuring car coats and separates in a range of somber tones of gray, black and charcoal.
"Even affluent men are questioning whether fashion is the best use of their money," noted Candace Corlett, president of retail strategies consultancy WSL Strategic Retail.
"That says there has to be a semblance of utility, function and longevity - it's got to span a few seasons, even a few year and withstand the hot and cold of trends."
There were still more plaids and nubby fabrics to be seen at Robert Geller, who showed looks mostly in gray, charcoal and black. Edwardian-influenced models sported oversized, wrapped neck scarves, while trousers were rolled up above the ankles. A poncho coat was emblematic of some designers' voluminous cuts.
From Rag and Bone came more horizontal stripes for pants, jackets and sweaters, while topcoats featured wide fleece-accented lapels that suggested the shawl collars that could be found on sweaters and outerwear of many collections.
"We're finishing dress-down casual and moving to a dressed-up casual," Wolfe observed. "The changes are subtle, mostly in colour and fabric, with colours moving richer and fabrics more luxurious."
"It's nothing too challenging, which would scare the average guy off. But we now have a generation of men who shop for themselves instead of their mothers or wives doing it for them."
Tommy Hilfiger told the story of a young cadet's military and sporty lifestyle in his autumn men's collection.
"It is an academy look that is sophisticated, modern, a touch rebellious but buttoned up," he said.
The show's notes called the line "a personalised take on military precision".
The military theme ran through nearly every piece, from four stripes at the wrist cuffs of coats to peacoats with chain embroidery.
Zippers detailed the thighs of skinny pants and collars flipped up to reveal leather.
Quilted leather was used in gloves and on the sleeves of jackets.
Patches were on the inside of elbows, not the usual outside.
There were even smaller touches too. Hilfiger showed a few turtlenecks, but one model wore a small buckled belt around his neck outside the sweater like a choker necklace.
Colours were rich autumn tones of burgundy, navy, olive and grey.
RAG & BONE
Marcus Wainwright and David Neville of Rag & Bone took cues from military and formalwear styles.
The collection showcased classic menswear - jackets, pants, vests and suits - but diverged in some pieces with wide stripes or ombre black to red prints.
The designers outfitted many of their models in black or brown officer boots.
There was a peacoat, army-green long coat and an air force blue tweed coat.
Leather detailed collars on tailored sweaters and coats.
Bring back the baggy pants.
Duckie Brown's design team of Steven Cox and Daniel Silver showed roomy, swingy men's pants in large plaids.
The designers played with shape for their pants, showing trousers with dropped crotches, wide legs or made with chunky sweater material.
Suits were clean, focusing on two and three-button jackets in tweed and herringbone along with a black double-breasted coat.
"It's got to go away from that grungy guy," Cox said.
"I think it's going to be that unkempt guy in a suit."
Cox and Silver paired their looks with winter accessories, chunky knit turban-style hats, long sweater gloves and hats made from Mongolian shearling.
"They play with volume in a way that no one else does," Thoreson said.
"Their construction and tailoring is impeccable but they're having fun with it."
J Crew's menswear collection had the brand's classic preppy look, clean two-button suits, pants and navy cardigan sweaters.
Designers did bring the coloured jeans trend from womenswear into menswear. There were jeans for men in orange, purple and bright blue.
Men's pants - dress and casual - were cuffed at the ankles.
Outerwear was the traditional parka with fur collar in navy and a toggle coat, but the materials were quilted.
There also was a tan workcoat with darker brown corduroy at the collar and cuffs.
Male models also wore thin sleek scarves tied closely around their necks.
John Bartlett's models were smeared with dirt and mud, some carrying camping accessories and wearing Hunter rain boots.
The designer said he was inspired by two films, The Life of Steve Zissou and Lord of the Flies for a collection with nautical and mountaineering silhouettes.
Bartlett didn't focus on suits, instead showcasing a more casual, sportsman's look.
"Everything I do goes back to denim," he said.
He also looked to make an eco-friendly collection, using vintage wool and organic cotton.
Bartlett used a red plaid and green and blue plaid for a funnel-neck vest with matching shorts.
Another look paired a motorcycle jacket with trousers in both red and brown.
Bartlett also grasped onto long underwear, showing a body suit in navy with a high neck and white buttons down the front.
Another model wore a turtleneck and long underwear pants in a thin brown and black horizontal striped pattern.
Ervell said his autumn collection was inspired by the crossing of a "heavily policed state" and "moments of protest".
The Swedish-born designer included pieces like a "tactical police sweater" made from alpaca with black patches on the tops of the shoulders and down the outside of the arm. He used a navy blue fabric that he called "police nylon" and showed SWAT jackets, flak jackets and helmet bags.
The looks, especially Ervell's suiting, were clean cut, but futuristic. A black, sporty shirt had a high neck and cuffs ringed with shiny gold fabric.
The suits were made with black and blue wool and paired with oxford shirts.
Ervell took a grey cotton twill fabric to make a field coat and utility pants that together looked very much like a uniform.
Bastian debuted two collections - the more laid back GANT by Michael Bastian and the more buttoned up Michael Bastian.
His namesake line, Michael Bastian, has clean-cut suits, sweaters and dress shirts.
"This new suit trend is really dependent on it being more of a designer fit," Bastian said.
"Slim, all of the designer details."
The GANT line is trendier. There are suits, but the sleeves are rolled up, fingerless gloves and pants tucked into boots.
The label's designer, Bernardo Rojo, looked to the classic 1930s style of the movie The Sting for the label's collection.
Rojo's detail work showed, with elbow pads on jackets, large buckles on the belts of coats and large scarfs draped close to the neck.
His runway show ended with a dozen models wearing different tuxedos, punctuating Rojo's message that formal is back.
"I think it's time to dress up, dressing down, we have had it for a long time," Rojo said.
"But it has to be in a contemporary way. I don't want to make it old."
Reuters and AP