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Atlanta International Fashion Week Celebrates Its 10th Year

Atlanta International Fashion Week is a relatively new event, being overshadowed by long-time favorites like New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. But, being only ten years old and taking place biannually, it makes a case for going to local fashion weeks.

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“Fashion is the heartbeat of style and the driving force of our society,” said founder Paula Whittle. “Aspiring designers, models and enthusiasts needed a platform and outlet for networking, promotion and presentations. Then, entered the concept of the Atlanta International Fashion Week, a vision of bridging the gap and connecting continents through fashion.”

From July 27 to 30, designers from around the world showed off their newest lookbooks on the runway accompanied by DJs, models and fashion enthusiasts from across Atlanta. The week was initially scheduled to take place from July 26 to July 31, but it was cut short because of scheduling issues. Instead, there were only three events, including two runway shows and a mixer to kick off the week.

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Even though there were fewer than 200 people in attendance, it brought in new perspectives to the concept of fashion week. Instead of enlisting big brands like Coco Chanel or Dior, it showcased looks from smaller brands and designers like Iridium Clothing Co. and Dani Oliva.

It was an intimate event, where everyone seemed to know each other (or acted like they did). Many of the models weren’t professional models, and it seemed like everyone was learning from the experience. “What is most memorable and rewarding [about AIFW] is the opportunity to mentor young girls for the fashion industry,” said Whittle. “We enjoy seeing their eagerness to learn, enthusiasm, drive and the impact on their lives.”

Even though it took over 30 people to plan, some aspects seemed improvised, causing a few last minute changes and cancellations to runway shows. Sunday’s swim show and other unannounced events were canceled, so better-known designers like Rigby & Peller ended up not being able to participate.

Despite feeling sometimes unprepared, the week featured 10 designers through a theme of traveling around the world. “You’re flying Atlanta International Fashion Week airline. The first stop is Europe,” said the opening speaker on the first night.

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Baby Bella Boutique brings back European designs to the United States for children under 14. It was founded by Lolita Corinovscaia, a Moldova native who opened a store in Phipps Plaza Shopping Center in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta after realizing that it was difficult to find European products for her child in America.

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De Louice is a tailor originally from Virginia. James Jang created the brand after moving to the United States from Korea in 1985. He owned a small shop in Virginia, which he then expanded to stores in Washington D.C., Chicago and Atlanta’s Phipps Plaza in 2014. The runway looks featured mostly black suits with a few accents thrown in, like subtle fleur de lis patterns and bright red pocket squares.

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L.K. Bennett is a brand hailing from London. It was the biggest brand at the show, with over 100 stores around the world. Focusing on both comfort and glamor, the brand brought many outfits featuring subtle pinks and nudes. Though the label originally started out as a luxury shoe brand (it’s well known for its modern kitten heel), it quickly began to grow into a women’s clothing brand and later expanded into accessories and handbags.

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Massimiliano Stanco , also known as StanCo, brought in luxury structured satchel bags from Italy. According to its website, the brand “[mixes] innocence and sex appeal, refinement with Art Deco and a love of craft with a futuristic boundary pushing aesthetics.”

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AMARI Co (Amari & Mari) is run by a 17-year-old fashion designer, Amari Johnson. Johnson began sewing when she was five, inspired by her mother who is a fourth-generation seamstress. The looks she presented at AIFW were muted shades of tan, but they included interesting touches of patchwork and metallic studs. “Every show I do is for a cause,” says Johnson on her website. “I have raised money for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Bullying, Eating Disorders, the homeless, etc. There are so many problems in the world and there is no time to do things that have no purpose, which is why I do what I do the way that I do it.”

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C.A.U.S.E (Causes All United to Serve and Empower) for Elegance is a non-profit clothing store, funding the Jr. Apprentice Program and scholarship fund, which gives students scholarships and access to the fashion industry. The Jr. Apprentice Program of Camp Village, Inc. teaches students between 13 and 18 years old to develop their own business plans and products. The students also get experience working at their store in Phipps Plaza and being mentored by others in the fashion industry.

The brand teamed up with Beijing-based Elisabeth Koch Millinery , who designed delicate and attention-drawing handmade hats for their collection. Elisabeth Koch Millinery began in 2007 with the “Pink Label” line of hats. Since then, all of her hats have been handmade by herself. Before moving to Beijing, Koch lived in Berlin, Luxembourg, Bombay, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. “I’ve made hats in China that I know I never would have made, had I been living elsewhere. There is no millinery supply shop in China. There are no milliners there. At first, I thought this was a huge problem, but it was the best thing that could have happened: it forced me to look at what I did have available to me as opposed to what I couldn’t find. I had to think totally out of the box and it’s influenced my hats from their base materials to the end-design and continues to do so.”

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Twelve Couture was the first brand at the third night of AIFW. Located in Fayetteville, Georgia, Twelve Couture is a small boutique specializing in women’s clothing. Their lookbook featured flowy, floor-length dresses and rompers decorated with statement necklaces and big purses with bright flower arrangements glued onto the face of each bag. Twelve Couture also played with loud patterns like black and white stripes and leopard print mixed with blue-orange swirls.

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Dani Oliva brought all white to the catwalk. “I was inspired by the tv show, Suits , specifically, one of the main characters, Jessica Pearson,” explains Danielle Oliva, who founded the label in 2011. “A lot of my ideas are heavily inspired by my surroundings. I put everything that I am into my work. I love classic looks from the 40s and 50s, so when there is an opportunity to incorporate or modernize, I’m all in. Old Hollywood glam to me is all about sophisticated, powerful, women and these aspects are important to me because I feel there is a need for clothing that doesn’t intimidate women and will make them feel beautiful and confident.” Oliva currently owns a boutique in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she attended college at N.C. State University and graduated with a B.A. in Public Relations. In addition to living in North Carolina, she has also been inspired by her upbringing in Southern California.

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Iridium is a modern fashion brand from Chicago with four US locations and one in Japan. Before starting the company, CEO Platinum worked as a biochemist and moonlighted as a fashion stylist. He teamed up with creative director Pugs Atomz after developing a friendship from shared tastes in fashion and music to form Iridium. At the show, Iridium presented mostly monochrome designs featuring bold feather patterns and full-length jackets.

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6 designers you need to know from Amsterdam Fashion Week 2016

It’s unfair to compare Amsterdam Fashion Week to the presentations seen in New York, Paris or Milan. However, one thing is for sure, Amsterdam Fashion Week is in a lane of its own. For many years, the focus has been on the ‘big four’ Fashion Weeks of the world, but with the Internet and social media, that’s slowly changing.

A few weeks ago marked the 25th Anniversary of the bi-annual fashion event, Amsterdam Fashion Week, as well as, the 10th anniversary of the highly anticipated competition,’Litching’ at Westergasfabriek. Litching consisted of 14 passionate student designers from the most prestigious fashion schools in Amsterdam who competed for the grand prize of €10,000 Euros and a runner up with a prize of €3,000 (which happened to be a crowd favorite). The winner of Litching was determined by the leading grand jury. This year, United Nude’s Creative Director Rem D. Koolhaas, fashion forecaster Ferry Schoew, BOSS Orange & Green’s Head of Creative Management Michael Kampe and Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer Bram van Diepen, as well as, an international jury of 150 fashion industry pros (that the author of this article was part of.)

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Besides Litching, other events included an exhibition, which showcased garments from Litching alumni winners. Additionally, there was the Elite Model Look 2016 National Final Show and competition, in which two models were selected to represent Elite Model Management Netherlands.

The ideal word to describe Amsterdam Fashion Week’s collections would be ‘eclectic’. While every designer on the schedule brought something satisfyingly different to the catwalks, below, are the six collections that stood out. Read more about the six designers / labels you should know from the 25th edition of Amsterdam Fashion Week 2016:

6. Danial Aitouganov.

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Danial Aitouganov showcased a distinctive presentation that comprised of tailored, oversized garments and matching accessories decorated with bright inviting colors, abstract shapes and prints and unexpected patterns with tribute to avant fashion trends, such as his spin on the oversized Vivienne Westwood-style hat. It was no secret why his collection won the trail to victory.

5. Zyanya Keizer.

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A familiar name at AFW, this designer presented a feminine yet avant garde collection entitled ‘Chiral’. It was ‘all in the details’ for this part presentation, part exhibition – from the liquid-like black runway, the stunning collection of straight and flowy silhouettes along with material decorated with glass beading, which has been a signature in Keizer’s collections over the past few years.

4. Merel van Glabbeek

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This collection in a single phrase, is best described when casual attire and couture collide. Van Glabbeek’s emphasis was on headwear, which comprised of beaded masks and beanies that evoked contemporary luxury as seen in the metallic beaded fringe.

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3. TRINHBECX

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Two graduates of ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, Tung Trinh and Tim Becx made their Amsterdam Fashion Week debut showcasing their second collection. The androgynous collection included contemporary garments with a futuristic edge as well as classic everyday pieces designed with unexpected color combinations, materials and the labels various eye-catching oversized tote bags.

2. Les Soeurs Rouges

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Fashion is nothing new to the sisters, Marlous and Dorrith de Roode, behind this five-year-old label. The duo’s grandfather, grandmother and mother have a track record in the industry. As a result, their handmade pieces are influenced by the city where they come from: The Hague, the period in which their grandmother grew up and most importantly, history. The collection showcased at AFW entitled ‘Le Parc Perdu’ did not disappoint consisting of feminine flowy dresses and silhouettes inspired by a zoo that was situated in the centre of The Hague at the end of the 19th century. Tigers, lions and cats formed the inspiration, so the sisters aimed to create the illusion of birds, butterflies and tigresses evolving into human enhancements.

1. Liselore Frowijn

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This designer’s presentation matched the theme of the collection: exotic yet eclectic. The designer transformed the catwalk into an exotic botanical garden to complement the models who graced the runway with garments dominated with the use of African-style kente cloth print, denim and sequins. This collection was certainly not to be missed!

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The Rise of Indie Fast Fashion

The rise of fast fashion has been nothing short of meteoric. Over the last decade, giants like Zara and H&M have conquered large parts of the market thanks to a powerful mix of runway-inspired product, cut-rate prices and large store networks. Now, a wave of indie, low-cost fashion players armed with e-commerce — from Style Mafia and Finery London to W Concept and Genuine People — are seeking a slice of the pie.

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“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in these smaller, independent fast fashion labels that have been able to successfully carve out a niche,” says Bernadette Kissane, an apparel analyst at Euromonitor, noting lower barriers to entry for e-commerce players and the rise of Millennial consumers, who hunger for trendy fashion and are entering their peak purchasing years.

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Nickyl Raithatha, founder of UK-based Finery London, which launched in 2014, saw an opportunity to build a “premium high street” brand online after watching the rise of e-commerce companies like Reformation in the US. “That approach wasn’t really being done in Europe,” he says. “I felt that there was about to be a whole new generation of brands that would be built online, and would offer the consumer a new experience and a new retail channel.” At the same time, he and Finery London brand director Caren Downie — who was formerly served as fashion director at ASOS and buying director at Topshop — felt the high street giants were missing the mark when it came to product.

“What we saw since the financial crisis is that a lot of product on the high street became deflationary, and prices were always coming down,” says Raithatha. “As a result, the product was becoming slightly more risk-averse, more homogenous and less brave and exciting.” Seeking to fill that gap, Finery focuses on creating directional styles with trend-driven elements — like an off-the-shoulder neckline — and upscale details at a price point slightly above the high street. The company releases six collections a year and produces a significant chunk — 35 percent — in the UK. “We don’t think of ourselves as fast fashion,” says Raithatha. “The way we operate, it’s more like a designer brand. It’s not disposable.”

Indeed, while the product and price point might bear resemblance to Topshop, little else about the business does. Chief among the differences is that Finery and others like it are built online.

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“Fast fashion has yet to be an online phenomenon,” says John Thorbeck, chairman of analytics firm Chainge Capital LLC. “Zara and other big names were relatively late to online. So it’s really been a store-driven experience and the online existed to drive traffic to stores.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for a young brand,” adds Thorbeck.

Selling online and often directly to the consumer allows fledgling labels, like Style Mafia, founded in 2013 by Miami-based Simonett Pereira, to keep their prices low and their retail strategy nimble. “We’re not Zara, or this huge multi-million dollar retailer, so we don’t make crazy amounts of one style,” says Pereira. “We make a lot of different styles, but not a lot of each.” This allows Pereira to respond to quick-moving mini-trends while keeping inventory low. She pays close attention to what’s trending on social media, drawing inspiration from the designs tagged in the photos uploaded by influencers. Once a design is hammered out, she sends it to her manufacturers in China, where a garment can be completed in 15 days. “The time frame being so immediate allows us to respond to what the customer wants right now, right away,” says Sarah Humphries, sales manager at Style Mafia. “It’s instant gratification.”

We’re moving toward seasonless merchandising that brings freshness and newness almost on a weekly basis versus focussing on the big seasonal trend.

Even though Finery London operates on a more typical wholesale production schedule — Raithatha says it takes six to seven months for a design to go from inception to storefront — the company is able to adjust their merchandising strategy quickly to address consumers’ immediate needs. “Because we’re direct-to-consumer on our website, we have that flexibility to push product that’s more relevant to the consumer,” says Raithatha. “We might drop a new collection on the site but not highlight it. For instance, if we drop a summer pack and it’s raining and cold out, we probably won’t push it to our customers.” This gives Finery an edge over traditional high street retailers in the UK, who saw sales flat-line this spring amid unseasonably cold weather.

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“I really think we’re moving toward seasonless merchandising that brings freshness and newness almost on a weekly basis versus focussing on the big seasonal trend,” says Thorbeck. “The advantage for these startups is they’re starting with this new culture, and don’t have to go through the agonising change that older retailers will have to do to address it.”

Founded in 2014 by husband-and-wife team Sharona Cohen and Nave Avimor, California-based label Genuine People has focused on creating a near-constant flow of new product from day one. “We came into this industry boot-strapped but we knew we had to have a quick turnover in order to compete against other players in the market, who are releasing new arrivals once or twice a week if not more,” says Cohen. “It’s like a new industry standard.” Immediately, the duo could see their instincts were not mistaken. “We saw that people were clicking on ‘new arrivals’ more than any other category, including ‘sale,’” says Cohen. “You would think they would be looking for a certain item, but they’re not. They just want to see what’s new.”

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Today, Genuine People releases new styles “almost daily” and, to further keep things fresh, every few days the site has a different theme or focus. “You need to interest shoppers all the time, especially if they’re fashion people,” says Cohen.

The concept for Genuine People was first sparked while Cohen and Avimor were living abroad in East Asia. “We saw that as soon as something was on the runway, practically the next day people were wearing it on the street,” says Cohen. “They are such fast adapters there, whether it’s individuals, manufacturers or designers.”

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Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the birth of indie fast fashion can probably be traced back to East Asia, where affordably-priced, trend-driven labels have existed for years. In 2006, WIZWID, one of the largest premium fashion e-commerce platforms in Korea, launched W Concept, a seasonal project that worked with top Korean designers and brands to create limited collections at more affordable prices. Since then, W Concept has grown into its own business with a standalone e-commerce platform — launched in 2011 — that stocks over 2,000 independent brands.

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Like Finery London, W Concept does not consider itself to be fast fashion; instead, says Yoona Park, a member of the company’s US marketing team, the company seeks to “provide young emerging designers with a high potential outlet to gain brand awareness and exposure, and support with sourcing, manufacturing, celebrities and influencers.” Yet, the majority of the labels it stocks seem to crib from the fast-fashion playbook, churning out designer-inspired items at low prices, and W Concept describes its strategy as “looks seen on the runway quickly turned into ready-to-wear at affordable prices.” The company releases 50 to 100 items each day, and almost everything is under $200. With local success under its belt — W Concept is now considered one of the top three fashion e-commerce retailers in South Korea — it’s no surprise the company has set its sights on the rest of the world. In November 2015, the company launched sites in the US, China and Canada.

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Though Genuine People is based in Los Angeles, the company sources about 30 percent of its designs from white label producers in Korea, China and Japan. The rest of their products are designed in-house, but produced and shipped from China. “We have a pretty unique business model,” says Avimor. “First of all, we operate directly from China and we were able to figure out a way to ship packages from China to the US in a matter of days, which has helped us be in the game and maybe even be faster than much bigger retailers in the US.”

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While living in Asia, Cohen and Avimor were able to form relationships with local logistics companies that allowed them to ship packages cheaply and quickly. “We’re playing the domestic game here — the shipping fee and the shipping times are the same as you would expect domestically,” says Avimor. Because the company is able to produce and merchandise inexpensively, they’re able to include what would be the cost of shipping within the price of a garment. The site offers free standard shipping for items delivered within 5 to 10 business days. Expedited shipping, however, costs $29.95 and ensures items arrive in between 4 to 8 business days. Returns are processed within the US.

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Each of these brands said they were targeting “young, creative professionals” in the 25 to 35-year-old age bracket (for many the sweet spot is between 25 and 30.) It’s an important segment to address. Unlike their younger counterparts who might frequent Forever21 or Brandy Melville, these consumers have more money to spend, higher standards and a more sophisticated aesthetic. In the past, these shoppers might have graduated to contemporary or designer labels. But today, an emphasis on experiential spending and a reluctance to wear the same thing twice, has discouraged higher spend per product.

“Consumers are choosing to spend more on going out, travel and social experiences. That reduces the apparel industry’s share of wallet. At the same time, it could benefit fast fashion players because consumers have less to spend on clothing,” says Kissane. Of course, these “social experiences” wind up on social media, for which consumers are keen to regularly have new items that photograph well. Construction and quality, though valued, are significantly less important since neither translates well in two-dimensions. Many of these brands specialise in statement styles seemingly engineered to rack up likes on Instagram. And, unlike purchases from Zara and Topshop, when you buy from one of these indie labels you’re less likely to show up to a party wearing the same thing as someone else.

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“[Retail giants like Zara] have monopolised the whole area, and now it’s working against them among a certain niche customer,” says Kissane. Consumers’ hunger for the new also applies to brands. “They get a kick out of being the first to shop somewhere,” says Kissane. Tagging H&M in an #OOTD on Instagram is fine, but tagging a lesser-known independent label warrants bragging rights.

On that note, these startup brands are often perceived as more authentic, a key value among Millennials. Asked why her customers don’t just go to Zara, Pereira says: “People identify with the fact that we’re a small brand. I’m 25 years old and I started this when I was 22. When I meet people and tell my story, they identify with it and they want to support someone who is local and doing their passion project and also creating styles they want to buy.”

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In a challenging market, fast fashion might be the best chance new designer-entrepreneurs have at running a solvent business. “Fast fashion is an opportunity to return to full price retail, minimising inventory risk and maximising responsiveness,” says Thorbeck. “This is significant in an industry where off-pricers now dominate.”

For now, however, these start-ups are a long way away from threatening the established fast fashion giants. “We haven’t seen anything explode on the level that they could even be competing with Zara or H&M,” says Euromonitor’s Kissane. “If there’s potential for that to happen, they’ll have to offer something more than just clothes at a low price. It can’t just be another fast fashion brand.”

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Wardrobe Advice for Men as Office Fashion Returns to Casual

New dress codes at big Wall Street firms present new wardrobe puzzles for men, and new opportunities to get them shopping.

For years, many men have been staying in the fashion safe zone and wearing a suit to work every day. But recent relaxations of dress codes at giant firms J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP has marked the spreading of business casual dressing to the financial services industry. And this time around, it is more challenging than the polo-shirts-and-khakis ensembles of the 1990s.

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Saks Fifth Avenue has stepped in with a six-page how-to manual updating business casual, which the luxury retailer will start handing out to customers next week. “A guy can put on a navy suit, a white shirt and a tie and it’s very easy for him. It becomes his work uniform,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. But “dressing business casual really takes a lot of skill to put together.”

Saks began work on the manual in June, shortly after the news of an internal memo at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. giving workers permission to wear business-casual attire on most occasions.

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Saks’s guide, titled “The New Office Casual,” features five different recommendations for business-casual looks, with itemized descriptions for each ensemble so men can opt to buy the whole outfit rather than putting it together themselves. The four looks inside highlight one or two of seven items the retailer calls office-casual “essentials.”

Other firms have also recently eased up on their wardrobe requirements. BlackRock, the giant money manager, further relaxed its dress code in June to allow jeans and short-sleeve shirts. The firm has had its business-casual dress code since the 1990s. While top BlackRock executives and people meeting with clients still have to dress for the occasion, others can wear less-formal attire, depending on their location and function.

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PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP instituted a “Dress For Your Day” dress code this summer encouraging U.S. employees to wear clothes they feel are appropriate for that day. “As we traveled the country, our people were clear that they wanted to dress the way their clients dress,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman. “In some cases, that’s suit and tie, in some cases that’s jeans. We wanted to listen to our people.” Before, the dress code was office-specific, with more formal dressing in the East and Midwest and casual in northern California, Mr. Ryan said.

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The changes come as the financial sector competes for talent with technology firms known for less buttoned-up work environments. The shift also is an appeal to a younger generation of workers, who bristle at dusty thinking on office dress.

Many of the firms now adopting business-casual policies were holdouts, meaning a potentially new wave of men dressing in a new way for work.

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“Business-casual is less of a formula and more open to interpretation than dressing in suits can be, and so many men are concerned that they’ll get it wrong,” said Julie Rath, a men’s style consultant and founder of NextLevelStyle.com, an online course for men. “There’s more room for error.”

Some men will have to shop for a new wardrobe. And some men may find they are spending more or nearly as much for a polished office-casual wardrobe as they did on suits and ties.

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A basic wool Saks Fifth Avenue Collection suit on Saks.com costs $1,298, not including dress shirt, tie, shoes and accessories. The Saks Fifth Avenue Collection corduroy blazer, crew neck sweater and pants on the cover of Saks’s manual total $1,224.

The seven new wardrobe essentials in the Saks guide mix dressy and casual. They are the Refined Top, the Perfect Fit Pant, the Dress Shoe Hybrid, the Sporty Suit, the Clean Sneaker, the Easy Layer and the Leather Bag. An Easy Layer is described as something in a neutral color to wear over a shirt, like a vest, cardigan-jacket, lightweight sweater or soft sport coat made of knit or jersey fabrics. A Refined Top “can be a button-down, turtleneck or dressy polo as long as the fit is tailored to your body,” the guide says. Chinos, sweatpants (now called “joggers” in the industry) and cargo pants are OK as long as they are slim-fit and tailored.

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The looks in the manual start out conservative and gradually become more daring on each new page. “The tricky thing is that every company has different standards, different dress codes, so we had to be universal enough and specific enough at the same time,” said vice president and fashion director Eric Jennings, who came up with the idea for the manual and led its concept.

The retailer tried to keep the manual simple. “We had one version of this where it was all the don’ts listed on there, and it was like ‘Argh, too much!’ ” Mr. Jennings said. “We don’t want it be information overload.”

In addition to mailing it to customers and distributing it in stores, sales associates also will email the manual to customers. Saks also plans business-casual store displays, with clusters of mannequins. “We’re hoping we become the headquarters for the new office casual,” Mr. Ott said.