Men's fashion is getting more colorful and classic designs are being refreshed with unusual fabrics as people look to their clothes to help them stand out in a tough economy, top buyers said during Fashion Week.
Spring fashions will focus less on mainstays, such as gray suits and silk ties, and more on fabrics such as linen and patterns such as plaid.
Men are ready to have fun again after years of sartorial austerity, buyers said. They want their clothes to give them a boost in a competitive job market. And that means moving beyond the same old, same old, experts said.
"What he doesn't want to do is buy things that look like what he already has," Durand Guion, Macy's Inc vice president of men's fashion, told Reuters.
Menswear has long been a relatively small business for retailers. Indeed, last year, women's clothing sales at luxury chain Saks Inc were more than twice as big as men's.
But retailers said the cultural shift that has made men more aware of fashion is permanent and can be a major source of growth. Neiman Marcus Group singled out men's as a strong category on its quarterly earnings call on Tuesday.
"Men are willing to take more risks, they're willing to experiment more," said Chris Cox, vice president of design and creative at Nautica, a unit of VF Corp.
The theme at Nautica's spring 2012 men's collection was a California road trip, featuring indigo suits made of linen, which the buyers agreed would be a popular fabric in spring.
Saks' men's fashion director Eric Jennings said most men don't wear suits to work anymore, making mastering business casual all the more important.
One of the biggest trends in men's fashions in the coming months will be a "British invasion" with tartan patterns, tweeds and "dapper" British dressing, Jennings said.
Men's fashions will have bolder colors, he said, with camel replacing gray as a foundation color.
Designers have also blended different, seemingly incongruous styles together. Guion said military motifs, such as the color olive green and metal buttons, will influence some classics like the cardigan.
Bloomingdale's Kevin Harter, men's fashion director, said men are embracing more accessories like pocket squares and scarves. And the sports coat is back in fashion.
"Nightlife is back," said Harter. "It's chic to dress up to go out to dinner again."
When men do buy new suits, they can expect slimmer fitting tailoring and colors beyond gray and navy blue.
Macy's Guion said shoppers can expect more patterns such as plaid in suits and wool blended ties.
With men more confident in their fashion sense, they want to have some fun, buyers said. "Men are not shy anymore," said Geoffrey Henning, a vice president at J.C. Penney Co Inc. "I think they want something that makes them happy."