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SUIT YOURSELF THIS YEAR - WITH ELEGANCE AND COMFORT

According to GQ's 1994 American Male Opinion survey, the most important spending priority for a man in the next 12 months is buying the traditional suit. That is in spite of this year's pretty much unshakeable trend toward more casual dress in the workplace, es-pe-cial-ly on casual Fridays.

Every man in the business world still needs to have a great suit or two to make a powerful statement. Men's clothing designers say it should be a tailored suit. According to Hart Schaffner & Marx, for instance, some things should never be sacrificed - and that means the true elements of style, comfort and craftsmanship.Every man who has ever donned a suit and tie understands the uneasy realization that his collar is puckering, no matter how many times he flattens it out. It usually happens just before an important meeting.

Hart Schaffner & Marx addresses that problem by defining style with respect to the collar. A man trying on a jacket should be sure that it curves smoothly around the neck without bunching. Every collar should have an undercollar, a felt liner sewn under the collar, allowing it to hold shape and lie flat without puckering.

Besides that, the seams joining the collar to the lapel, known by tailors as the gorge, should be straight and smooth. Lapels should lie flat on the chest without buckling or pulling. Buttons should be affixed firmly with a tight shank of thread to prevent puckering when the coat is but-toned.

Then there is the trouser. Have you ever thought you needed to lose weight because your waistband rolls and wrinkles when you sit down? Instead, it means you have trousers without anti-roll waistband lining. The rise, or the distance from the crotch to the top of the waistband, allows trousers to fall flat in front without wrinkling over the stomach.

And suspenders are a must.

Remember, also the break, a crease over the instep of a shoe, is necessary so that the sock is not visible while standing.

That said, Hart Schaffner & Marx believes in comfort in clothing, whether it is for dress, business or sporty weekends. They achieve comfort with a softly tailored approach, using the finest denier 100 percent Bemberg lining, new high performance woven interlining from Europe. This featherweight approach asks the question, does the jacket feel invisible?

The answer should be yes.

The colors are classic ones of navy and charcoal with neutral accents and traditional, understated, elegant nailhead, glenplaid and mini-houndstooth patterns.

Hickey-Freeman, another big name in men's clothing, is headed in the same direction. It is using exclusive fabrications from world renown mills, canvas fronts, 100 percent silk thread and horn buttons in each suit and sportcoat.

From classic two-button to contemporary three-button and double-breasted suitings, Hickey-Freeman is putting the focus on the softest fabrications. At first sight, 100 percent wool saxony, flannel, worsted/cashmere and flannel/cashmere appear to be heavier in weight. But, in fact, they are lighter, softer and more comfortable than ever before.

Hickey-Freeman suits redefine elegance in rich, dressier hues of navy, charcoal and brown. Fabrics and patterns have an understated elegance, from classic camel and brown plaids to black and white novelty checks.

Hickey-Freeman considers its hallmark to be customized clothing with the softest silhouette a man could ever want to wear.

Bagir, the Israeli-based manufacturer, argues for a "power suit," that presents an authoritative, boardroom-friendly dash of dignity. Power-players who wear Bagir styles have double-breasted suits with nipped-in waists, more defined shoulders, a longer lapel gorge and either one or two buttons.

As with the other designers, this suit is available in black, charcoal, navy and brown. It is also found with fine woolen pinstripes, neat weaves and rich textures that symbolize a resurgence to corporate formality.

Another example of the power approach is the elongated, 4-button silhouette, long and linear, with triple-pleated pants perfect for the manor born. These are offered in brown and earth tones, deep harvest sienna and a browned black.

For easy Friday, Bagir is debuting an especially wild number - the jacket without sleeves. It is not a traditional vest, but rather a tailored, 5-button, 2-pocket coat, with a belted back and scaled-down jacket lapels. It is innovative and imaginative. The fabric is a high-twist wool crepe in black, a hot color for Fall. Bagir calls the jacket silhouette "casual but correct."

According to Claiborne Clothing, the evolution of the suit is driven by attitude. This year, men can dress with either structured, updated traditionalist clothing or the cooler, spontaneous, contemporary look. Claiborne sees tailored clothing as being influenced by sportswear and sportswear designed with a tailored expression.

The most important thing to Claiborne is how the suit feels to the customer rather than how it looks. The Claiborne line for Fall is textile driven, with both fashionable and functional fabrics, such as crepe twists, dimensional weaves and high performance yarns.

The result is a soft and easy suit or jacket - working as naturally with tee shirts and sweaters as it does with ties and dress shirts. The key element is flexibility.

So if you need a new suit to round our your wardrobe for the Fall, this is the year to get it. It's the first time you will be able to cash in on elegance and comfort.