Dress Smart


The latest trend in men's business dress is best summed up in a word coined by celebrated Ford Motor designer J Mays: retrofuturism. It involves taking classic design and updating it with modern technology. You see it on the 2003 Ford Thunderbird, revitalized with 21st century engineering and creature comforts while remaining true to its 1955 styling. And you see it in men's suits, shirts, and ties that marry innovative fabrics and inspiration drawn from past eras of elegance.

The traditional single-breasted, gray suit, for instance, may now have lapels that are peaked rather than notched, and a more fitted jacket than the "sack" suit of yesterday.

Yet comfort is foremost, in part thanks to the technology used by Italian textile manufacturers to create the lightest-weight wools ever. Top Italian mills such as Loro Piana and Carlo Barbera have pioneered the development of these high-performance wools, known as "super 100s," with threads that measure just 18 microns (18 millionths of a meter). Super 120s measure 17.5 microns.

The fineness of the fibers, spun with a high degree of twist, gives the yarn a springy resilience. The resulting suit has tremendous body and drape without sacrificing shape or line. No more ultraheavy suits for winter. These fabrics are meant to be worn year-round. Discerning dressers who still want variation in their summer and winter wardrobes can use seasonal colors to draw the distinction. Much of the best new clothing bears the look and finesse of custom tailoring, yet is available off the rack at prices ranging from $600 to more than $3,000. The highest prices reflect the level of hand stitching and the quality of the fabrics.

Back to the Future

In keeping with the retrofuturist trend in tailored clothing, the best shirts and ties feature Old World design elements in updated colors and fabrics. Shirts are slightly trimmer in fit than you've grown accustomed to. Spread collars are back, thanks in part to the influence of such classic British shirtmakers as Thomas Pink opening shops across the U.S. Both the English spread and the more modified American version are formal and flattering. If you have a round face, though, you may find you favor the modified version.

The fabrics will have surface interest -- a solid color shirt in a micro-herringbone weave, for instance. And what you would have formerly thought of as sporty -- tattersalls, gingham checks, and subtle plaids -- now come in dressed-up versions. French cuffs make the difference, whether the shirt is solid or patterned. They are unquestionably elegant and complement the new variations of spread collars.

Plus, you can build a great cufflink wardrobe. Precious-metal versions in gold or silver look best when understated rather than large and shiny. For color, consider geometrics worked upon double-sided, ceramic ovals, or inexpensive, simple silk knots, perhaps in contrasting colors. Or look for vintage links. A playful nod to a favorite sport acknowledges a time when men dressed up for the country.

In ties, classic patterns such as regimental stripes, understated geometrics, or even solids are worked in luxurious, textured silks, and in rich, sometimes unorthodox colors like purples and deep pinks. The typical width is still about 31/2 inches, but high-end designers have been reshaping their neckwear to a fuller width throughout, which means the knot will be fuller, too -- recalling the Edwardian era of 100 years ago.

For fall, you can go from classic casual to formal and still be suitably attired. You know what you like, and you also know what's appropriate for your company or industry. But to get you started, we've selected four suits to show the range, with shirts and ties to pull the outfits together.

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