Dressy but not overdone was the message from the menswear runways at New York Fashion Week previews for spring.
There was tailored comfort, sporty pursuits and playful color, but quiet palettes, too. Contemporary but not fussy was the hallmark.
"I think guys are looking for clothes that are easy, comfortable but still stylish," designer Robert Geller said before his show at Chelsea Piers. "They want to look well-dressed, but not like they're trying too hard."
Nautica's Chris Cox agreed.
"If you don't feel comfortable and confident, go back to the wardrobe and start over," he said shortly after his presentation on the roof of the Empire Hotel.
More and more, Gant designer Michael Bastian said, men don't have to wear suits to work. That, he said, changes everything and might require re-evaluation of the quality of sportswear already in the closet.
"Even if it's a polo shirt and chinos, they should be the best possible quality, and fit perfectly," he said.
On the runways, soft jerseys, nylons and cottons were naturally relaxed. Even the suiting and dressier wear was done in lightweight fabrics that took the tension out. In a warm, humid late-summer flurry of shows, models strode and posed with languid laissez-faire, a vibe throughout most of the collections.
John Crocco's latest for the label referenced his time spent in Arizona's Painted Desert.
"I was drawn to the color palette of the desert — beautiful, dehydrated color, which mixed really well with neutrals," he said.
With names like stillwater, canyon and iron ore, those are the hues he sent down the label's Lincoln Center runway.
Joe Manganiello from "True Blood" and Chaske Spencer from "Twilight" were in the front row.
Linen suits, blazers, Bermuda shorts and drawstring pants in creamy linen looked effortless, yet ready for anything. With a knitted motif inspired by the desert landscape, a colorblock sweater opened the show and was one of Crocco's favorite pieces, as was a luscious sage goat suede shirt.
"Men want versatility," Crocco said.
Cox's newest collection for the label was a road trip along the California coast.
There were beach boys in crab, sail and shell watercolor-print swim trunks and board shorts, chambray cotton shirts and leather boat shoes.
Paired with cream and gray cotton silk shawl-collared sweaters with leather elbow patches, the look was Moondoggie and a Malibu bonfire.
There were Cali-prepsters in cotton Oxford blazers, double-breasted gingham blazers and some crisp blue and white pieces, including a knitted cotton striped tie, striped cargo shirt and tropical-weight wool dress shorts and blazer.
A palette of soothing coral, stone, cream and Pacific blue gave way to exuberant brights in a regatta collection of snappy nylon trenches and parkas in orange, yellow, green and red, which were among Cox's favorite pieces.
Known for his edgy American style, Geller experimented with geometric shapes, showing rounded-hem overcoats, square boxy jackets and triangular pants that were loose at the hip but pegged at the bottom.
He kept the fabrics soft. One of his personal favorites is a tailored Tencel lounge pant.
"It's a light, breezy material perfect for summer, but the cut and detailing keep it from feeling too dressed down," Geller said.
Long mesh tanks peeked out under shirts and jackets. Big mesh scarves, pilot's jackets and flight pants had a '40's vibe. The palette was soothing in earth and mineral tones, and deep blues.
A summer-weight wool blazer with torn edges had a great casual feel. If you never thought a man could look like a tough bad boy in a floppy hat and beads, think again. Through a collaboration with the studio of Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Scosha Woolridge, there were chunky necklaces on several models and dramatic wide brims on woven wanderer hats.
For a buzzing, jam-packed crowd at Milk Studios in Chelsea, Spurr's was the show of the night.
While the collection wasn't as relaxed as some of the others, impeccable tailoring and an urban edge were tangible.
Spurr took inspiration from the dazzled ships of World War II, which were painted in broken geometric patterns to confuse enemy rangers. He put the pattern on a black-and-gray suit and a T-shirt.
All of the suits were cut close to the body with short jackets and slim pants. There were several with sleek leather lapels, and more hybrid jackets with contrasting sleeves.
He looked to the military for a double-breasted jacket with regimental taping on the cuffs, and several olive toned pieces, including a buttoned up shirt with a shoulder patch, a long tunic and a bomber jacket.
Some easy sweaters with chevron and broken-stripe motifs were paired with slim black or white pants. There was a little extra color, albeit understated, in a merlot blazer and leather jacket, a mauve shirt and a trench in deep blue.
Spurr's man lives downtown but has an estate in the country, if the sleek riding boots on several models were any indication.
Swedish-born Ervell's collection was all about his adopted city of New York, with inspirations ranging from the heartbeat of the financial center to, as he put it, the "grit and toughness of the street."
There were beautiful, easy wool suits in chocolate, indigo and charcoal worn with Peter Pan collared shirts, and a couple of button-down banker-stripe dress shirts.
A milky white nylon trench was a chic piece. Ervell used it in a short jacket and under a navy oiled lambskin aviator vest. Elastic bottomed pants in some combination of cotton, linen and silk looked downtown comfortable.
Amid the dark neutrals, Ervell chose a watery Hawaiian print silk for several shirts and baseball jackets, evoking the city on a rainy night as seen through a taxi window.
"Anyone can be James Dean for a day," said Bastian, who channeled filmdom's most iconic rebel. His first model was a ringer for the actor, complete with original 1950s eyewear, jeans and a red canvas windbreaker.
There were nylon coveralls, army shorts and shirt jacket, a double-breasted cashmere 'blazer' sweater, and a tattersal short-sleeved western shirt, all done in navy. A cowboy vibe came through in several western-style shirts, a rubberized linen raincoat and suede jacket. Bandannas peeked out of several back pockets.
Wearable plaid jackets, shirts and trousers were done in gray, red, navy and white.
Bastian's sporty aesthetic showed in corduroy hiking shorts, surf jams, seersucker karate shorts and even a wrestling singlet.
Dresswear included a beige cotton and silk notch lapel suit, black-and-white gingham shirt, red skinny belt and a black, red and blue linen bow tie. A black Lurex bow tie was paired with a pale blue shawl collar dinner jacket and tuxedo pants.
The designer showed his collection on the High Line, setting the stage with paintbox-colored bistro chairs — and he kept the brights coming.
With "modern prep" as the theme, and fashionistas like James Marsden, Kellan Lutz and Ed Westwick in the crowd, he rolled out classic double-breasted suits and trenchcoats.
Several suits featured striking horizontal nautical stripes on pant legs and across the torso of shirts and jackets. Some of the trenches were done in luscious eggplant and yellow. Others had a super wide lapel.
Comfy looking loafers featured sassy red soles.
Camouflage was a recurring motif, interpreted in blues and greens, reds and browns, and putty tones on everything from anoraks to shorts, blazers and coats.
Colorblocked dress shirts and polos were crisp counterpoints to light blue and white seersucker and pinstripe pants and jackets.
There were lettered collegiate jackets in mustard and teal, and orange and blue, paired with khaki pants and shorts. Several interesting hybrid pieces combined a blazer body with varsity jacket sleeves.
Smart totes and satchels were trimmed in leather, and there was a handy stretch band shown with leather briefcases. Jump on that commuter train, stylish modern prepster, and worry not about losing your portfolio.
Duckie Brown's man could be described as anything but traditional.
Designs from Daniel Silver and Steven Cox were bold but relaxed.
With their traditional nod to London street wear, the first models wore black nylon from head to toe. There was a three-button jacket with matching black nylon T-shirt and trousers. A Bexley jacket was paired with a six-pleat trouser.
The tailoring was kept loose throughout the collection.
Next was tweed, including indigo trousers and a matching three-button jacket that looked like something that would be meant for a day at work on Madison Avenue.
Grays and tans were included in a khaki two-pocket work shirt that would look good on anyone. But, not to be too conforming, the last several models donned silk and chiffon shirts and short shorts, some with a large pink, gray and dark purple rose prints.
Duckie Brown is not looking to dress the typical frat-boy-turned-financier. They are dressing a gritty, working-class guy who isn't afraid to spend the day digging a ditch and then going for a night out in a bruised rose organza puffer jacket.
Sometimes an understated collection makes for an underwhelming runway show, but Yigal Azrouel's spring lineup never crossed the line into boring. Instead, it read like a primer on how to pull off sporty chic without trying too hard.
To build the collection's signature look, the Israeli-born designer took a slouchy piece — think cotton jersey sweatpants in a light oatmeal color — and paired it with an edgy, structured item, such as a distressed motorcycle jacket in slate gray.
Lightweight fabrics, relaxed tailoring and sporty details, including side zips and drawstrings galore, suggest a guy who opts for comfort and clean lines over fads. But lest the collection veer too far into lounging-on-the-couch territory, Azrouel built in modern accents like black lambskin hoods and contrasting collars.
The highlight was Azrouel's array of jackets. From a vintage-washed denim jacket with black leather sleeves to a cotton twill duffle coat, the outerwear, like the collection overall, was sophisticated yet totally wearable.
Ellen F. Gibson and Associated Press Writer Summer Moore in New York contributed to this report.