The new Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store in Mazza Gallerie is not, I repeat, not your father's store. Once you've seen the recently opened new digs and its mother lode of drop-dead gorgeous clothes (yes, we are talking about menswear), plus a salesman who admits to being a fashion victim, you may wish you had some of the old guy's money. You may barely have noticed the former men's department, its half a floor wedged into the flagship Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, store that primarily targets women. The new separate bi-level store doubles the former space, with a grand total of 25,000 well-designed square feet.
There's plenty of light (coming in from huge windows) to -- get this -- really see the clothes. There's also plenty of space in which to freely browse through the easily accessible merchandise. Display cases are reserved for cuff links and small leather goods. The store feels appropriately clubby, too, with just the right not-so-dark mahogany accents and original artwork spread over the walls. There's even a space on the second floor to read newspapers or watch sports while having a suit fitted.
But, wait a second. Why all this fuss about fashion for a group mostly notorious for loathing everything about shopping? According to Shawny Burns, public relations manager at Saks in Chevy Chase, while we were sleeping, things have changed. What started 10 years ago with "dress-down Friday" has recently morphed into "business casual." And that has provoked a small revolution in menswear, spurred by an increasing number of men's magazines like Men's Health, GQ and Esquire. Suddenly, men so accustomed to wearing their suits like uniforms, are now faced with questions and decisions about -- eek -- what is business casual anyway and what are they supposed to wear to work.
The Saks Men's Store, along with others such as New York's Bergdorf Goodman, to the rescue, carrying a wide variety of men's designers who all incorporate the so-called business casual look into their collections. Of course, younger customers' increasing amount of disposable income and willingness to spend it hasn't hurt this process one bit.
Then there are the clothes. The second floor of the new men's store is mostly devoted to suits, and plenty of conservative pinstripes among them, along with a special Armani department and a Ralph Lauren Purple Label section (high-end clothes that old Ralph still has a hand in designing). But it's the first floor that's eye candy, with $175 cotton shirts in olive and orange by Italian designer Vestimenta, an unconstructed banded-collar sports jacket in charcoal wool, a navy blue cashmere coat paired with a soft mauve long scarf. There are Dolce & Gabbana leather pants, silk shirts emblazoned with D&G logos, John Bartlett denims with tuxedo stripe ($195), an overcoat one-half of which is pleated.
For men who are averse to looking like hairdressers or skateboarders, there's the eminently wearable collection of John Varvatos, who recently won an award for the best new designer of menswear. A grayish green polyurethane trench coat with zipper caught my eye, as did a chunky gray/green turtleneck and a charcoal wool overshirt. As I looked questioningly at a reversible merino wool knit shirt in navy blue, it was the confessed fashion-victim salesman Thomas who told me that it could be an underpinning for a suit or a sports jacket, you know, instead of a shirt and a tie. You know, business casual.
-- Janet Bennett