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Photograph by Dina Scoppettone

Strutting your stuff takes on a whole new sheen with De Cre's satin denim jacket with fox fur in dark indigo, paired here with a burgundy silk chiffon blouse.

Metro's Fall Fashion 2003

POWER. It can come from a plug-in, it can come from a title, and, yes, it can come from a suit. Forgotten in the bulge of the economic boom, the slim pinstripe of power fashion makes a comeback this fall, combating casual attitudes with an employ-me tease. In this fall fashion issue, Metro consorts with the power brokers to put the looks together. Whether your style takes its cues from punk or from preppy, the images from our first annual Santana Row fashion show will power you from the boardroom to the boardwalk.

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The New Slovenliness

Flip-flops with suits, T-shirts with jackets--is this fashion or just couture confusion? How do you know what to wear--and when?

By Traci Vogel

EVERY FEW YEARS, modish mavens try and stuff the same look down our throats: the trim, prim Chanel suit for ladies, the Ivy League look for men. And every few years, a conspicuous proportion of the general public gently rebels by adopting what is euphemistically called the "casual look"--or, whatever happens to be on sale at Old Navy. It's a cycle that's as old as the moon and significantly weirder. Why do we persist in the dress-me-up/dress-me-down dichotomy?

Depending on whom you talk to, there is currently a move away from the tailored look and toward more T-shirting, or there is a move toward flamboyant dressing up in an effort to impress, say, a potential employer. Underemployment encourages the recycling of classics; in a slow economy, a frivolous trendy purchase seems just that. On the other hand, no one wants to look like they're trying too hard. Desperation is notoriously unattractive. Where's the middle ground? How do you decide what's too dressy or not dressy enough for work or play?

According to Ed Mosher, owner of the oldest men's store in Silicon Valley, Mosher's, Ltd. on the Paseo de San Antonio in the Fairmont Hotel, confusion is rampant, but a few simple rules should suffice.

"In menswear," he stresses, "work clothing should be understated. A lot of women especially are very confused--they think their husband should have this really fancy conversation-piece tie, and that's not what dressing for business is about. If you're selling something, you should have the look that you know what you're talking about. Time is money, especially in this day and age. So if someone comes into your office and says, 'Oh, what a fabulous tie,' that's terrible. That's time wasting. The tie is supposed to tie the outfit together, draw the eye upward."

But don't toss your colorful ties just yet--conversation pieces do have their place. When dressing for a social event, Mosher says, "then you can have fun. ... Then it's social, appropriate for small talk."

Mosher describes his store as classic, traditional and conservative, and as a member of the Men's Fashion Board in New York for many years, he has seen trends come and go. He notes that throughout the dot-comfort dressing craze and its army of armchair sartorialists, one thing remained the same: "If you walked down the power streets in America--Wall Street, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Montgomery Street in San Francisco--you never saw people going to work in dirty cutoffs or T-shirts. The power brokers have been wearing coats and ties and looking decent."

In fact, Mosher muses that Silicon Valley's frumpiness may have directly contributed to its economic slump. "They all started dressing like they were going to the garden club. The companies that have gone out of business, some of it was because of this casual approach. ... They thought [dressing up] was restrictive. It's been very difficult trying to get across the concept. What if, for example, you drove into the Fairmont and all the bellboys or the staff were in T-shirts and cutoffs? Or, why shouldn't firemen and policemen hang out in what they want to? There is a reason for uniforms."

A uniform look is all well and good for men, but women enjoy a more complicated relationship with the power suit. Or do they? In the latest Style.com fall trends report, the pundits bark, "Designers rummaged through Dad's closet once again and came out with businesslike pinstripes and serious suits recut to flatter the feminine form. Well-crafted classics like fitted jackets, trousers, and oversize coats combine power and sex appeal. Who doesn't go crazy, after all, for a sharp-dressed (wo)man?"

Style.com's creepy concept of "Dad's Closet" as the arbiter of women's professional looks aside, the connection between power and the suit is clear: Looks make the handshake sweeter.

Daddy's Closet

The good thing about restrictions such as uniforms is that everyone knows where they stand. And as the rebel's yell goes, you have to know the rules to break them. Rules, and the breaking of them, are perhaps nowhere more exquisitely codified than at clubs, where the list of no-nos may include anything from "no tennis shoes" to "no backless shirts." At downtown's mod-posh Cabana nightclub, forbidden wear includes baggy jeans and clothes with sports logos. The rules exist to discourage bad behavior and instill a kind of discipline--the aim of uniforms everywhere--but also to create a fun, dress-up atmosphere.

Cabana's bar manager Nicole Daryanani explains, "We hold up a dress code because this is a night club, not a pool hall or a neighborhood bar. There are different standards. People go to have a night out, not just to hang out."

Daryanani agrees that casual clothes seem to be infiltrating every sphere of social life, although she is not so sure there are economic reasons behind the trend. "It's the style," she says. "Take Bebe, for example--Bebe used to have just great, really nice clothes, dresses. Now you can buy sweats at Bebe. Or SeanJean, for men--they have a whole line of sweatsuits. I know they're expensive, I know they're nice, but it's still a sweatsuit."

Daryanani's advice to club-goers parallel's Mosher's advice to wannabe power brokers: "Dress to impress."

Heed these words, club-goers and job interiewees. Perhaps, in this economy, it's best to take a cue from WWII British prisoners of war, who kept their uniforms immaculate despite every obstacle to chic. War is hell, but slovenliness is purgatory.

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