When it comes to getting dressed, men are like sheep. He knows if he is well-dressed if the fellow sitting next to him at the bar is wearing the identical kit. It's all very simple really - just three steps: blue shirt; chinos; deck shoes. For men up and down the country, these three items of clothing have become a uniform. It has something to do with safety in numbers. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination, however, to stray from the pack. Menswear shops from Leeds to Leigh-on-Sea have been exploring other possibilities for some time now. Casual clothes does not have to mean Dockers (the American "Friday wear" company that is the biggest seller in the States is determined to win the battle of the chino).
So just what are the alternatives? Sophia Neophitou, who put together the clothes on these pages, did some investigation into men's "leisure wear" as they call it in the US. She came up with a wardrobe that is both hip and relaxed, both cool and casual.
"The best alternative to chinos is a pair of comfortable, wide trousers," Neophitou says. "I chose a pair from Phat Farm, but Jigsaw and Burro have good shapes too. Be careful if you have short legs, though." In that case, you should go for narrower legs and avoid pleats at all costs. Those flat- front trousers from your schooldays are just the thing. Combat trousers are another good alternative. Gap's "cargo pants" are somewhere between combats and chinos and are a good buy at pounds 38.
If you are a sweatpant addict, you might be coaxed into trying a pair of Burro's trousers made of fleece. At Marks & Spencer, fleece is big news. It is warm and comfortable - positively cosy. Once used solely for mountain-climbing gear and active sportswear, fleece has become an essential part of every designer's collection. M&S tracksuit bottoms are pounds 27. Once you've slipped into a pair you may find them so comfortable you never want to be de-fleeced, so the company has also produced fleece pyjamas and a matching dressing gown you can pop on at night.
At Burro, the fleece is boiled. "We call it intelligent fleece," says Judith Tolley, who works for the company. Boiling it apparently gives it an extra edge, which is what menswear is all about right now. Thinking men like to have an "edge". And to prove it, the Burro customer is buying the wide-leg fleece trousers with a matching zip jacket to wear as a winter suit. It's more formal than a tracksuit but nowhere near as stiff as the tailored variety.
Buying a new outfit is a bit like decorating your home. Once you've painted the walls, you find you need to change the curtains and put a new coat of varnish on the floorboards. A new pair of trousers invariably means a new pair of shoes. And you can chuck out those deck shoes right now. Instead, you can't go wrong with a pair of Clark's Cornish pasties (so traditional they are a modern classic); or take a look at the range by Mallorcan company, Camper. For the past couple of years, the Camper shop in Covent Garden has been a well-kept secret among the fashion know-alls. Now branches are popping up all over the place. There's one in Bond Street and another in Brompton Cross, as well as stockists up and down the country. Camper is quietly getting on with the job of revolutionising men's foot-wear with strange hybrids of highly technical walking boots, running shoes and old-fashioned football boots.
So loosen up, shake a leg and take a look in the mirror. If you look just like all your friends, plan a day of shopping. These pages should give you a few ideas.
Previous page: red hat, pounds 36, by Kangol, from House of Fraser stores nationwide (enq: 0171 487 4888); grey hooded top, pounds 75, grey body warmer, pounds 95, both by The Edge, from Jigsaw Menswear, 27-29 Brook Street, W1, 28- 32 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow (enq: 0171 499 2521); T-shirt, pounds 95, Anglomania, Vivienne Westwood, from Worlds End, 430 King's Road, SW10 (enq: 0171 352 6551) and 2a St, Mary Street, Manchester (enq: 0161 835 2121)
Right and above: grey T-shirt with red sleeves, pounds 45, by YMC, from Liberty, Regent Street, W1 (enq: 0171 734 1234) and Brother 2 Brother, 202 West Street, Sheffield (enq: 01142 754 296); blue short-sleeved shirt, pounds 30, by Carhartt, 56 Neal Street, WC2 (enq: 0171 379 4165); denim trousers, pounds 75, by Burro, 19a Floral Street, WC2 (enq: 0171 240 5120) and John Anthony, Unit 4, Omega Centre, Upper Bristol Road, Bath
Right: navy hooded fleece jumper, pounds 149, by Helmut Lang, from Liberty, as before, and Harvey Nichols, 107-111 Briggate, Leeds (enq: 0113 204 8888); grey fleece trousers, pounds 70, by Burro, as before; brown leather Pelotas trainers, pounds 76, by Camper, 35 Brompton Road, SW3 (enq: 0171 584 5439)
Above: black nylon top, pounds 75, by Burro, as before; denim combat trousers, pounds 60, by G-Star (enq: 0171 371 9890), from American Classics, Endell Street, WC2 and A2, 9 Ethel Street, Birmingham
Denim trousers, pounds 75, by Burro, as before; cream suede shoes, pounds 55, by Clarks, Regent Street, W1 (enq: 0990 785 886)
Above: red hat, pounds 36, by Kangol, as before; grey hooded top, pounds 75, grey body warmer, pounds 95, both by The Edge, as before; grey fly T-shirt, pounds 40, by YMC, as before; grey trousers, pounds 75, by Phat Farm, from Browns Focus, 38-39 South Molton Street, W1 (enq: 0171 629 0666)
Left: black jacket, pounds 655, by Junya Watanbe, from Liberty, as before; black trousers, pounds 85, by Burro, as before; black hat, pounds 60, by YMC, as before
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARC VAN LENGEN
STYLING BY SOPHIA NEOPHITOU
STYLING ASSISTANT: HOLLY WOOD; HAIR: TAKU AT PREMIER; MODEL: JO AT SELECT