NEVER MIND the creases. Linen is back where it belongs, at the heart of fashion. This summer, every piece of clothing in the male wardrobe comes in linen.

And the signs are that the revival of the material will run for several seasons, surpassing the boom of the mid-Eighties. Here is an investment that won't go out of fashion in a hurry.

For men, the timing is apposite. The stiff, structured, male wardrobe is on the retreat. In its place comes a new relaxed way of dressing that pays scant regard to the rules of classic menswear. Out go suits and ties. In come casual jackets and open- necked shirts.

Sometimes we forget quite how strong the transformation in menswear has been in recent years. Fashion has focused so intensely on the swings and roundabouts of womenswear that developments in menswear have been overlooked.

The revival of linen is influencing both men's and women's clothes. At Premiere Vision, the fabrics trade fair held last March in Paris, the linen weavers of Northern Ireland were overwhelmed with orders. Happy times indeed when the rest of the industry is less than happy.

Linen is rather more flexible than the fabric we used to wear in the Eighties. Alison Lloyd, designer of the Ally Capellino label, explains: 'The manufacturers are experimenting much more, mixing linen with viscose to give the fabric drape, and with silk to give it lustre and a nice feel. They are even exploring linen for winter, combining it with wool.'

This summer, high street retailers are also selling linen-cotton men's shirts, which bring down the price considerably (an all-linen men's shirt from the designer Margaret Howell will set you back a cool pounds 130).

John England of John England Textiles from Northern Ireland points out that new finishing techniques have given a much-valued softness to linen. Paradoxically, however, many designers still want the old-fashioned feel of linen because of the demand for clothes that suggest a back-to-nature eco-friendly mood.

Designers have always admired the practical coolness of linen,

but now they are appreciating the fibre as much for its texture. Designers (and their customers) want fabrics with surface character. Plain, flat fabrics are increasingly seen as boring.

Look out, then, for all sorts of new linen fabrics over the coming seasons. This summer, the most enticing pieces for men include Mulberry's crushed linen jackets, and Paul Smith's shorts. At a more affordable price, there are linen shorts from Ted Baker, shirts from Oakland and the new Jigsaw men's range (this is one to watch, the collection will be expanding next autumn).

All these clothes are neatly in tune with the free-for-all spirit of this summer's men's fashion. The mood is relaxed and easy-going with lots

of lightweight clothes. Buy soft- structured jackets, lightweight trousers and unfussy white shirts. Suits with shorts look good on men, if you've got the legs. Belts are less in evidence: Paul Smith is selling loose drawstring trousers, which are more like pyjamas.

This hang-loose wardrobe is more suited for the weekend rather than the office. But a well cut linen jacket can look perfectly acceptable at work. Designers are pursuing a line that blurs the boundaries, promoting a steady erosion of the once strict demarcation between weekend and weekday wear.

All the signs are that men are happy to follow this route. They are buying jackets rather than suits because jackets are more versatile. They can be dressed down for the weekend with a pair of jeans and a T- shirt, or dressed up for the office with a pair of lightweight wool trousers, shirt and tie. And don't worry about those creases.

(Photographs omitted)