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Wearing a sport jacket over jeans or a dress shirt without a tie hardly can be called a fashion revolution. People have been mixing tailored and casual looks for years. Sometimes unintentionally.

But at the recent fall preview of the Men's Fashion Association, such pairings were prominent.

"We like the idea of a city jacket you can wear for business but also for the weekend with cowboy boots, a buffalo-check shirt and turtleneck," said Chip Tolbert, fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association.

"It's dressing up sportswear and dressing down tailored clothing."

Spotted on the runways: Denim shirts and ties. Parkas and suits. Jeans and loafers.

"Men are ready for a break from the fast-lane, city-slick kind of look. They're in a town and country mood for fall," said Joe Sapienza, vice president and fashion director, JCPenney.

Designer Henry Grethel put it another way. "When you think of the future, I really think that what people want are clothes that are more versatile so they can wear them in more than one way.

"Obviously you can do that with a jacket. With the new softer sport coats, you can dress them up or you can wear them with jeans," he said. "It's the same with a denim or a chambray shirt -- wearing it not just as a sport shirt but with a coat and tie as well," Grethel said.

(A note to men in search of total hipness: If you opt to wear a shirt with no tie, do not -- under any circumstances -- walk around with the top button unfastened. Follow the lead of the runway models and button it right up to the neck.)

"Sportswear is having a very definite influence in tailored clothing, because the whole clothing concept is beginning to soften," Grethel said.

Try this on for size: Designer Barry Bricken starts with a spice-brown polo sweater, then layers on a cranberry Shetland wool sport jacket and charcoal gray flannel pants and tops it with a checked overcoat with raglan sleeves.

In his American Couture collection of tailored clothing, designer Allyn St. George pairs a wool tweed sport jacket in shades of copper, gray and pumpkin with gray flannel pants and a sand-colored turtleneck sweater.

And designer Ronaldus Shamask tops a taupe plaid suit, ecru classic shirt and striped tie with a black unconstructed corduroy jacket.

"I see men moving into an easier fashion expression where dress-up has a more relaxed look," said designer Ron Chereskin, who features luxurious yarns and soft drapey fabrics in his fall collection.

Even in some offices, the rules aren't as strict, Grethel said.

"I think there is such a thing as appropriate dress, but I think that what you are seeing as far as professional dress today is that it's not just that cookie-cutter three-piece suit anymore. . . . The key word you're hearing is 'modern.'

"You don't have to look like you're a clothes horse, but you want to look like you are abreast of the times," he said.

There is much discussion about the country influence -- with all its tweeds, corduroys and rich autumn hues -- in the menswear industry right now.

"Our country looks are more refined than rugged for fall," Sapienza said. "Men want to identify with a lifestyle with a slower pace than the city-slick looks we've been seeing for some time. But there's a lot of sophistication to this style."

What to look for?

Jackets with looser, more comfortable fits. At Austin Reed, for example, jacket styles are fuller and fit easier so that the jacket can be worn over a sweater.

Country tweeds and plaids in tailored suits. Allyn St. George takes a woodsy tweed fabric and fashions an elegant three-piece suit in tone-on-tone steel gray and black worsted wool.

Lots of vests. A camel hair blazer from Botany 500 is accented with a fancy foulard vest and "hunt pattern" tie for a real blending of American classic looks.

Rugged coats over suits: Designer Cecilia Metheny tops a double-breasted sport jacket and herringbone trousers with a hooded duffel coat.

Suede in the strangest places. Richard Mishaan layers a red tweed blazer over a cocoa-colored suede shirt and gray flannel pants.

Normal shirts, crazy ties: So maybe the tie covered with a gamblers and jackpot machines by New Ideas may not end up in many boardrooms, but you get the idea.

"What I really think is that men love comfortable things. Once you have given them this freedom in terms of tailored clothing that is softer, easier and more generous, you're not going to get them back into tight-fitting, form-fitting clothing," Grethel said.

Designer Ronaldus Shamask describes fall fashion happenings this way: "Proper is out. Tidy is out. What's in? Nonchalance. Accidental chic. Just-happened-to-look-handsome."

This comes from a man who said he never wears a tie. Well, hardly ever, that is.
There is much discussion about the country influence -- tweeds, corduroys, rich autumn hues -- in the menswear industry.