Tightness, you may be pleased to hear, is on its way out. The last few seasons of super-clingy pants, shrunk jackets and nerd-a-like bow ties on buttoned-up shirts have been interesting for menswear, certainly, demanding a real commitment from fashion's followers - but it was an ultimately doomed flirtation: we all know how men feel about commitment, after all.
The spring/summer 2010 menswear catwalk presentations, shown last week in Milan and still in progress in Paris, are reflecting something of a change in mood across the board. While specific garments continue to be drawn along similar lines - jackets remaining single-breasted on the whole, stingy-brimmed trilbies still popular and so on - subtle changes in line, cut and fabric point to the fashion pendulum's return towards a middle ground, with a more relaxed silhouette, simpler constructions and a more masculine ethos.
That's not exactly surprising: where the highly tailored looks of the last couple of seasons were doubtless appealing in a world of successful high-powered deals, Bond-wannabe lifestyles and general alpha-male confidence, the damp squib that is the economy in most of the world at the moment is not terribly conducive to showing off. Wearing a pinstripe seems, if anything, a little flashy and gloating when so many are "taking time out" from their careers. In any case, one does not buy a beautiful but pricey suit one season and then expect to replace it the next year because one needs a slightly narrower lapel or a glossier finish, so while city tailoring remains a strong theme, it is less extreme in its details, less demanding and, frankly, no longer the be-all and end-all of menswear.
That's not to say that the season is all about slovenly shapes and slushy shades: quite the opposite, in fact. For a relaxed, looser jacket to fit properly, the cut has to be just so, skimming the torso in all the right places rather than hanging limply from the shoulders. The exemplar of this comes, of course, from the granddaddy of the unstructured jacket, Giorgio Armani. In both his eponymous collection and his Emporio Armani show, the two- and three-piece suits somehow succeeded in sitting slightly proud of the body yet creating a long, elegant, slender line - a trick that has made the Armani suit a byword for cool-but-tasteful since the mid-Eighties.
The refined, slightly glossy linens in mineral greys and stone shades are the sort of stylish touches that a season ago would have been abhorred by fashion-conscious males - boring and far too obviously flattering. But they seem to be leading the pack for the next year, because Armani is not the only designer to be thinking about real people this time round. It has seemed for some time to be the delight of designers to humiliate their male models with chronically embarrassing styling - even where the individual garments are exquisite - that has seen fey-looking chaps wafting along the catwalk in, for example, tiny pink shorts with socks and sandals and a matching clutch bag, or other similarly ironic combinations. There seems to be a new sense of authenticity all of a sudden, though, with clothes that are genuinely pleasant, well put-together and, for all that they may not be exactly challenging, happily un-postmodern. Gucci and Versace, for example, while never having been entirely wacky, both sent out eminently attractive collections with a touch of Miami Vice about them in their relaxed, summery white and pastel suits and bright highlights.
Yet even more traditionally adventurous designers such as John Varvatos and Marc Jacobs offered up some fairly conventional tailoring and styling - though rarely was it dull, as colour, texture and pattern became the new key to innovation. This was where the edgy, minimalist likes of Neil Barrett and Raf Simons for Jil Sander came unstuck. Almost the only brands still using the pale-and-interesting models that have ruled for three or four seasons, their formerly progressive lines suddenly seemed a bit silly in a new world in which men aspire to look, well, good. Cool. Low-maintenance.
And low-maintenance is the buzzword here. Keeping those piqués and jacquards Persil white may require a sterile environment, daily laundering and spare outfits on hand - something to which khandoura wearers are, of course, no strangers - but as far as the casual onlooker is concerned, their wearers should appear effortless, relaxed, chilled and unconcerned. The pastels are crisp, the whites immaculate, but unlike the sharp white-jacket-and-jeans trend that hit the clubs last year, the fabric remains casually unpressed, the line eminently natural.
For those that yearn for a little direction, though, there are nevertheless some key fashion-forward details to keep the trendsters happy. Firstly, there are some crucial colours that mark the season. Shades of red and orange appeared at a number of shows both in Paris and Milan, ranging from an earthy terracotta at Bottega Veneta to vibrant crimson at Dirk Bikkembergs. They were paired with neutrals, whites and black to stand out all the more. A growing trend in both menswear and womenswear, yellow was another popular shade, adding a bright optimism to otherwise low-key, chic looks at Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo. Vuitton's version was that particular shade synonymous with the New York taxi cab, creating a little urban kick in a season that has been punctuated with outdoorsy ruggedness.
Of the pastel shades - and there were many - pale blue is by far the most popular, seen in the hi-tech cagoules of Moncler Gamme Bleu, the washed-out rolled-up jeans and faded indigo cardigans of Missoni and the soft duck-egg-blue linen suits of Etro. Kean Etro was, as one would expect, the designer who took the colour look the furthest, combining sugary lavenders and violets, lemon and sunshine yellow, turquoise and cornflower, fuchsia and raspberry. Hats, shoes, jackets, waistcoats, shorts and trousers: all received the rainbow treatment. Towards the end of the show the introduction of floral prints on relaxed cotton shirts and summery shorts echoed another of the season's big looks - and one that seems likely to last for a few seasons: pattern.
Dries Van Noten and Issey Miyake went all-out for floral prints, as did D&G, where shirts featured original vintage graphics by Fiorucci. But taking things even further were those designers that used texture to define their patterns: Alexis Mabille, Gucci and Moschino all used elaborate jacquards, while Emporio Armani used Devore velvets for his Polynesian florals and dots. Dip-dyes, seen at Burberry particularly, were used as a way to take colour to an even more relaxed place, and the fabric treatment was often seen in conjunction with vaguely eastern looks, as at Versace, where long dip-dye tunics were worn over trousers as a sort of jelabiya. Ghutras remain popular, too, with Costume National Homme making them a key focus for the collection, matching whole outfits with the scarves' background colours, and at Moncler Gamme Bleu, a row of models in white robes looked, at first glance, more than a little like an Ayala dance troupe. And, as in womenswear, the western vision of the East is manifested in very low-rise trousers, from Burberry's gently drop-crotched suit trousers to the voluminous harem-style pants at Balenciaga.
Of course, trousers have been the focus of fashion-followers for some time - skinny or skinnier being the general approach until now. But while a few designers are still sending out skintight trousers, most have migrated to a looser fit, some abandoning the flat-fronted suit trousers for one or even, at Dries Van Noten, three pleats, leading to either a tapered leg or even a wide-legged baggy look. The summer alternative, in the spirit of the season's relaxed mood, is the tailored short, seen at almost every show, but best executed at Emporio Armani, Boss by Hugo Boss and Louis Vuitton. And, of course, every season there will be the street-inspired trend that is on every catwalk but will only be worn by fashion's early adopters - for now, at least - in this case, cropped suit trousers. Over the last few months, the streets of Milan, New York and London have seen well-dressed men of all ages rolling up their trousers to just above the sock-free ankle, worn with soft driving shoes or loafers. Suit trousers have been cut a little shorter, too, and it's a look that's easily tried without too much investment. And when even the wild card garment is eminently wearable, you know it's going to be a great season.