Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dress Code: The New Casualness Calls for More Sport Coats

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dress Code: The New Casualness Calls for More Sport Coats

Article excerpt

WEATHERMAN Willard Scott, Kramer of "Seinfeld" and the stereotypical used-car salesman: What do the three have in common?

Loud, obnoxious, in-your-face sport coats.

After being muscled aside by the power suits of the '80s, sport coats are back - but not, thankfully, the Scott-Kramer-salesman variety.

When describing the latest incarnation of this versatile, informal jacket, clothing experts use words like "elegant," "gentrified," "lofty" and "fashionable." (Not adjectives usually linked to Scott, Kramer, et al.)

The new sport coat is the one worn by such icons of style as menswear designers Ralph Lauren (heather-gray tweed with bluejeans), Bob Mackie (muted checks with dark dress pants) and Tommy Hilfiger (navy-blue twill with khaki chinos).

Sport coats, which can range in price from about $100 to more than $1,000, are taking off because of the new casualness in the way men are dressing, said Erin Gaffney, spokeswoman for the giant Hartmarx Corp., manufacturer of the Hart Schaffner & Marx, Austin Reed and KM by Krizia lines.

"From three years ago, our sport coat sales have gone up 50 percent overall," Gaffney said.

At J.C. Penney stores, sport coat sales have jumped more than 25 percent since last October, said Joe Sapienza, director and vice president of merchandise development.

"This reflects a growing trend toward more latitude in dress codes in the business world. The suit and tie are no longer mandatory. A sport coat offers flexibility and a more comfortable fit," Sapienza said.

"These are not staid, traditional sport coats," he added. "The consumer is reacting to the variety of new fabrics, patterns and colors. The dominant trend is a country look. Our best-seller is by Hunt Club - a tweedy jacket in browns and greens with suede elbow patches."

Sport coat business is also brisk at Lands' End, a mail-order company. "We've been talking about more casual dress for the office for a couple of years - now it's a reality," said spokesman Joe Sirianni.

As a result, Lands' End has seen "significant growth" in sport coats over the past three years - including a jump in sales of about 28 percent in the past year, said Franz Weiglein, another spokesman.

For Jack Herschlag, executive director of the National Association of Men's Sportswear Buyers, the ultimate proof of the sport coat's new-found popularity is this:

"A few years ago, The Gap was not in the sport coat business. Now it's heavily into it," Herschlag said.

John Schwarz, a pharmaceuticals salesman from Casselberry, Fla., is sold on sport coats. "I like the versatility. They can be dressed down with a denim shirt and pair of khakis. But they're also appropriate for business with dress pants and a dress shirt and tie. You can't really dress a suit down," Schwarz said.

"They're more practical from the cost perspective and the comfort perspective. …

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