Men's sportswear is earth-bound literally as well as figuratively this fall. Colors set the pace with names like "tobacco," "petrol blue," "maize," "river" and "coal," to say nothing of the increasingly complex olives, which span the tonal range.
Then, there's an emphasis on earthy comfort that shows in natural fabrications cottons, silks and light-weight wools and the relaxed cuts of baggy pants and roomier shirts and sweaters.
Noting men's increasing license to mix and match whatever suits their fancy, Craig Randle, manager at Hunter's, Ltd., 919 Mass., said, "There aren't any more clothing rules."
Earl Reineman, vice president of Weaver' Inc., 901 Mass., added, "Anything works as long as you're comfortable and it looks good.
"It speaks well of consumers and the fashion industry both."
IN THAT shared frame of mind, Lawrence men's shops are offering quite a potpourri everything from silk shirts to rugged jeans for casual dressing this fall, as well as more expertise to help customers figure out how to put it all all together.
The layered or street look keeps gaining strength, and Dan Ward of JC Penney, 1801 W. 23rd, said it doesn't necessary require "new" clothes.
"Take three or four things already in your wardrobe and put them together," he suggested.
If something new is a possibility, he added, the newest double-breasted and three-button single-breasted sport coats look great with jeans or casual slacks.
Greg Easter, manager of Eastons, Ltd., 839 Mass., said sport coats worn as sport jackets are the "big, hot thing right now" real loose and comfortable, and Ken Campbell, manager of Campbell's Clothing, 841 Mass., mentioned in particular an "interesting and exciting" new fabric in sport jackets for fall. Called "microfiber," it is polyester that feels like suede.
THERE ALSO are some great offerings in all-virgin blown wool sport jackets. "Blown" means the wool has been especially treated so the fibers are softer, giving a super-comfortable feel.
Under their new jackets, men are wearing everything from colored T-shirts and V-necked sweaters to a whole new generation of earth-toned sport shirts so versatile they're being worn as dress shirts too.
In the new shirts, there are solids galore, as well as florals, paisleys and dobby prints in jacquard weaves.
"Patterns are more often woven right in," Randle explained. "It's very subtle, the colors are much richer and it gives much more character."
Most fall sports shirts also are in natural fabrications and many have been garment washed a gentler process than stone washing for the lived-in look that speaks to the season's relaxed frame of mind.
Reineman of Weaver's described the feel as that of "your favorite old shirt."
In addition to the cotton chambray and cotton flannel, there are lots of silk shirts, which are washable and therefore more manageable and coming down in price. They've now hit the $60 to $75 range in some stores, and gone even lower in a few cases.
"A LOT of people really like the silk shirts because of the way they feel," Randle of Hunter's said.
Campbell noted that his more traditional store had added a line of washed silk shirts in giant paisley patterns for fall, and Jeremy Furse, owner of Britches Corner, 843 Mass., which has been selling silk shirts for five years, said, "Men's silk is through the roof" this year.
There also are lots of knit, rugby-style shirts in all the stores. Many feature color blocks, which Furse said are "everywhere" this season from underwear to outerwear, but especially in the shirts.
Almost all sport shirts in cotton fabrications come in both button-down and straight collar styles, and some of the knit shirts even come in button-down styles, but most of the silks sport point collars.
To continue the layered look, there are oodles of sweaters, although some clothiers think they may be losing some steam after several popular seasons.
NEARLY ALL fall sweaters are 100 percent cotton, though, which Randle explained "is much easier to care for." He added that most people don't need wool for warmth any more.
Campbell added that cotton yarn seems to take dyes better than wool, too, so the sweaters look brighter.
In casual pants, denim jeans keep gaining strength in menswear. Furse said designers recognize that these perennial children's favorites are well loved by aging baby boomers too. He pointed out that baby boomers were the first generation to grow up in denim and as a consequence, they don't plan to ever give them up.
Designers accommodate with more relaxed cuts for the changing bodies.
At Eastons, the denim offering includes cuffed jean shorts, to be worn with sport jackets for fall. Some denim there also is "overdyed," which layers a darker blue color over a washed blue to achieve a more complex texture.
Randle of Hunter's said most casual slacks for fall feature pleated fronts including double, scissor and box pleats and sometimes sport such details as watch pockets.
Weaver's Reineman reiterated that Levi Dockers again will be the dominate look, and Ward of Penney's said a variety of twills will maintain their popularity, most of which are cut with oversized thighs.
Some are cuffed, he added, especially ones in checked patterns that he predicted would come back even stronger next spring.