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Clothes Remake the Man : Fashion: As choices have increased through the years, so has confusion about what works, especially in the casual realm.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some men need help getting dressed in the morning.

It’s not that they can’t button their shirts or put their pants on one leg at a time; it’s that they don’t know which shirts or what pants to wear. They’re confused by an abundance of new fashion choices.

Five or 10 years ago, before the era of “casual Fridays” and the growth of the menswear market, a guy had to decide only which tie to wear with his dark gray suit and white shirt.

Now suits come in many hues and textures, including olive and brown tones once banned from boardrooms. Shirts also have a broad palette and limitless patterns, and ties--now sometimes optional--range from sedate stripes to avant-garde art.

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Times have definitely changed.

Michael Renzi, designer and owner of Renzi Custom Gallery in Newport Beach, recently spotted a 1960s photograph of men sitting in an Ivy League club. All were dressed in the same uniform--dark suits and white shirts.

“They looked identical. It was easy to dress back then. There was no second-guessing,” he says. “Now men have more flamboyance in clothing.”

Casual Friday has added to the fashion confusion.

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“It used to be an executive could wear a navy or gray suit and he was covered. Then a memo came out saying it was OK for him to loosen up, but it didn’t tell him what to do,” says Doug Burnett, owner of Alex Sebastian in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. “He just had a closet of suits but no direction other than a magazine or two.”

Renzi says, “Little girls grow up dressing dolls and playing with clothes. They learn to coordinate clothes from an early age. They’ve been educated. Men didn’t get that education. Coordinating and personal packaging is not even on their docket.”

To help men pull together their wardrobes, many stores offer personal shoppers or wardrobe consultants who help coordinate outfits right down to the socks. At Alex Sebastian, Club Alex counselors are at the ready to rifle closets, conducting a thorough wardrobe evaluation and inventory.

“We’ll go to people’s homes. We’ll go through everything they own,” Burnett says.

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Counselors can show clients how to “dress down” a suit for a casual workday. They’ll take a textured suit by Ermenegildo Zegna and pair it with a woven tie and colored dress shirt, or skip the tie and add a knit shirt.

“A suit can’t just be worn by itself with a red tie anymore,” Burnett says. “It’s not flexible enough. A man should be able to pull a tan polo shirt and wear it with a textured suit. He must be able to give a suit a second, sportswear attitude.”

Getting conservative businessmen to step out from their corporate uniform can be challenging.

“A lot of men are more insecure about what to wear than they want to admit,” says Jeff Sterzer, personal clothier for Tom James of Orange County. Tom James’ clothiers bring their samples and swatches to the client’s home or office; they, too, will go through closets and revamp entire wardrobes.

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“Men are intimidated about doing something wrong. There are so many selections out there,” Sterzer says. “You can take a standard IBM guy in a navy suit and white shirt and try to push him into an olive suit, but he’ll still grab a white shirt.”

Sterzer tries to coax them into something more fashion-forward, such as a blue pinpoint oxford or ecru dress shirt.

“You have to be willing to take suits and shirts and just stick them next to each other, and you’ll start seeing things you didn’t expect,” he says.

Renzi says the biggest problem area for guys is casual wear.

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“Men in Southern California either wear a jogging suit or a power suit and little in-between,” he says.

Renzi knows men who drive $50,000 cars but still wear $30 Dockers. He tries to bring them up to speed with soft jackets, mock turtlenecks, linen pants and other relaxed styles suitable for the office.

“Casual wear at the office means no tie--it doesn’t mean running shorts,” he says.


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