Shirts for men have never been more interesting. For spring, the designers are emphasizing casual and classic designs, with Geoffrey Beene, the dean of men's designers, leading the way. He is focusing on spring-summer as the "touch and feel" season in men's shirts.
That is because fashion is about fabric, what Beene calls "the touchables" - textured, highly visible surface treatments, from slick to crinkled, pique, twill, oxford, crepe, basket weave, seersucker, mesh, herringbone, dobby, jaspe, denim and linen.The fabrics Beene is using lend themselves beautifully to relaxed softwear shirts, with "Beene Unbuttoned" being the dominant trend. The comfort zone he recommends is more decorous - a casual chic that fits the casual dresser as well as it does the workaholic. The casual look is larger, fuller, more generous, with button-down, banded and pointed collars being the favorites.
Solid colors that appear un-solid because of the interesting weaves are at the forefront of Beene Unbuttoned. Sage green, khaki, tan and taupe - as well as a clear blue note - are the most popular.
White is softening into cream or ecru, and dynamite black is re-emerging. That's right. The cool black dress shirt with a knockout, contrasting tie is respectable for ordinary guys now - not gangsters. Dramatic, bold patterns, such as glen and the fancier striped denims, are also going to be much in demand.
Beene is into texture, too, for classic dress shirts, sporting narrower stripes to create drama and dimension. Variations on the stripe are satin stripes, herringbone stripes, framed stripes and random stripes. Colors are dustier, deeper and richer - in black, charcoal, berry, navy, pine and an intense milano blue. Black is frequently paired with white and cream, while blue goes with maize or khaki.
Collars are point, spread, contrast white and refined tab.
Bass, the trendy shirtmaker, is selling natural fiber shirts with a similar relaxed feeling. They are offering a new crinkly, micromesh fabric that looks like super-puckered seersucker.
Bass is talking about floaty soft crepes, washed and more luxurious buckskin twills, 2-ply oxfords, poplins, cotton linens and the perennial favorite, denims-with-a-difference. Like Beene, the underlying theme is texture, surface, on-top-of-it weaves.
The hot color for Bass is blue - in many different varieties - brilliant, sky, indigo. Then there is radiant red, primary sunset, ripened plum and leafy green. Also like Beene, Bass is emphasizing the `black burner,' meaning the forward appearance of black as a trendsetter.
Pattern shirts have so much variety that it is mind-boggling. There are checks, ranging from microscopic graphics to big, bold buffalo plaids. Stripes are closer and narrower. Beyond button-down and spread collars, the Bass response is to take a close look at the rounded Old English white collar topping seriously-striped, gentlemanly shirts.
Van Heusen, another shirt-trend leader, calls its look "Corporate Casual," a relaxed, comfortable, worker-friendly style. The shirts in this look are made up of piques, slub, seersucker, printed twills, linens and cotton lenos - elegant fabrics in a casual environment. The texture is eye-catching.
The colors are solid earth tones cooled by flax in herringbone weaves, super stripes in khaki, basil, berry, pine, non-drab olive, drama-black and a predictable emphasis on blues. Checks are refined, from miniature to oversized softly shaded ombre.
Collars are banded, softer longpoints, crisp button-downs, and occasionally French front styling.
In the boardroom, the look is darker, with bolder stripes matching up black and white, blue and white, sienna brown and icy aquamarine, often with white contrasting point collars.
Much of what Van Heusen offers this spring is wrinkle-free, but it also comes in broadcloth blends, textures created by dobby, jaspe weaves and pinpoint oxfords. In both corporate casual and the more elite board room look, short sleeves, ordinarily considered unfashionable, are coming into their own. It goes hand-in-hand with the classic, dress-up look.
The safest conclusion to make about shirts this spring is that variety rules. There is no single "wear-with-all" approach.