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Patriot Acts

Fashion News

Brandon Palas explores the Americanization of men’s fashion, from Ivy League prepster to rockabilly rebel. This Fall it’s all about the red, white and blue.

Last January, Europe woke to the call of “Reveille” as a resurgence of American menswear swept the shows in Milan and Paris, where designers ordered a cavalry of quiffed cadets down the Fall-Winter 2010 runways. One by one, square-jawed mannequins emerged from behind the curtains, actively marching to the beat of a new old drummer.

Personas popularized in the United States during the 1940s and 50s—the nuts-and-bolts soldier, the bourgeois businessman, the sporty Ivy Leaguer, and the rockin’ rebel—are all on active duty this season. From Bottega Veneta to Ermenegildo Zegna, every designer wants a piece of the apple pie. Classic American regalia has once again come into vogue, and the wake-up call is right on time.

Military style has proven to be the most tenacious trend since it was reinstated a couple of years ago. But this time around designers are forgoing the costume-y interpretations that were promoted during the glam 80s and in more recent years, and returning to functionality without the bells and whistles. Miuccia Prada included a classic camouflage topcoat in her new collection; Marc Jacobs paired a classic peacoat with slacks and Giorgio Armani found military inspiration in the Czarist Cossack-style coat but gave it an American twist by employing a quilt pattern in blues and greens.

This season, Ralph Lauren, perhaps the most American of American designers—he was once a tie salesman at Brooks Brothers—reinvigorated the classics with a modern stroke. His new three-piece pinstriped suits were splashed with bits of vibrant color, such as a bright pink button-down shirt.

Other designers encouraged men to spice up their traditional togs by adding accessories and experimenting with texture. A wallet chain or flouncy pocket square, a la Hermès, might do the trick, but those with adventurous taste should go for the leopard-print blazer at Gucci or the new velvet suits at Dolce & Gabbana. If you’re looking for an extra soupcon of style but not a daring statement, Dolce and Gabbana also offered suits with velvet-trimmed lapels. Salvatore Ferragamo’s definition of high style with a modern twist involved velvet loafers, jacquard dinner jackets and paisley silk scarves.

For men who prefer to dress it down rather than up, classic American leisure apparel never goes out of style. This is our inheritance from the post-World War II generation, which embraced the relaxed dressing, the informal lifestyle and sporty pleasures of the suburbs. Since sportswear allows for considerable freedom in mixing and matching separates, opportunities for self-expression abound.

Emporio Armani went so far as to open its show with strapping snowboarders decked out in full waterproof garb: ski jacket, salopettes, boots, gloves, hat, even the goggles and the board! Of course, this look is far better suited for flying down the slopes than navigating the hallways of a corporate office. Throwing on a pair of Bottega Veneta’s cotton pants communicates a similarly sporty sensibility, but one that is more appropriate for everyday wear.

Even more casual, but nevertheless impressive, is the everpopular Ivy League approach. Although the official Ivy League athletic conference, comprising of eight colleges in the northeastern United States, wasn’t established until 1954, the signature look dates back to the turn of the century when, in 1896, Brooks Brothers introduced the oxford button-down shirt.

This season, try layering Prada’s cropped, cable-knit sweater or Hermès’s nylon letterman-esque jacket between a button-down shirt and a blazer to express that sporty Ivy League attitude. Gucci’s horse-bit loafers and Armani’s saddle shoes should get you walking in the right direction too.

For those who prefer smoking in the boys’ room to studying in the classroom, look to Bottega Veneta, where models strode out with pompadours and greasy quiffs. Bottega Veneta paired dark denim jeans with upturned cuffs and exposed white socks with double-breasted blazers in lively cardinal red or purple. They also showed a range of kicky bolo ties that would make Johnny Cash oh so proud.

If anyone doubts the influence of American menswear this Fall, consider the wildly popular restaurant that Ralph Lauren recently opened on Boulevard Saint-Germain on the Left Bank in Paris. Appropriately called Ralph’s, it has garnered rave reviews.

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