There is a theory that fashion has moved into a post-trends world. High-street stores replicate catwalk styles overnight and thrive on updating their rails every few weeks; if once whole nations dressed the same, now the style of more niche groups are catered for. In effect, all trends are in fashion all the time. Or all out of fashion, depending on your standpoint. It is a theory that seems especially applicable to menswear, which has long thrived less on womenswear's bold statements and abrupt seasonal changes and more on almost imperceptible evolution, the celebration of proportion and detail. And the theory holds true for last week's Milan collections - heralding what we may be wearing, or ignoring, come next autumn. So although a diversity of the dapper has been on show - punk-rockabilly-rocker-gypsy-rustic-workwear-meets-snowboarder might be a hectic summation of the overarching look - it is underpinned in recessionary times by a more commercial wearability. Even Vivienne Westwood, arguably the most outré of all the designers showing, complemented Chewbacca coats, kilts and orange boiler suits with a blend of pristine tailoring - windowpane check double-breasted jackets and wide-lapelled blazers - and slouchy Sunday cardigans.
A return to masculinity, be that dressed up or down, is the order of the day. Dolce & Gabbana's collection, which has been arguably the most satisfyingly cohesive of the season so far, is - with the exception of its suggestion to wear longjohns as trousers, rather than under them - pure The Godfather Part II: trim waistcoats and wife-beater vests with rugged, slim tailoring, form-fitting knits and pristine white shirts. Wear it when you're feeling more De Niro than Brando. Similarly, Giorgio Armani's mainline collection takes a superficially plain palette of steely greys and uncomplicated cuts and makes them interesting through shine and textured surface detail and cosy, tactile, fabrication.
Plush may not be graphically arresting, but it comforts, lasts and sells. Others have pursued a similar path, Bottega Veneta re-imagining knitwear in peacoat cuts and making otherwise sober suiting neater and boxier; Burberry Prorsum again re-working its Great War military schtick with oversized greatcoats and cardigans; Ermenegildo Zegna updating its tone-on-tone charcoal, cropped double-breasted suits and knitted jackets with more styling than spectacle: ties worn with chunky knitted collars, for the office worker who came in from the cold. Gucci and John Varvatos are sharp in different, almost local ways, the Italian brand tapping its chic 1970s heritage with suede-pocketed knitwear, velvets and fine polo neck sweaters, the New York label all dark, Bohemian layers.
A cop-out on creativity? Maybe. Versace, in contrast, has gone all gothic futurism. Neil Barrett has his half-and-half coats and suit jackets, each a ying-yang of different, complementary cloths. And for all that quietly quirky staples pre-dominate the Milan catwalks, some brands have played with classicism to the very edge of many a grown man's FAQ - Fashion Acceptability Quotient. Miuccia Prada's stated intention of "reinventing the banal" encompasses hipster trousers and a double collar motif on coats, but also a blend of little-girl cardies, camel and camo, the latter given a formal spin. Alexander McQueen's high-buttoning, fly-fronted tailoring mines his Savile Row training, but in fabrics printed to resemble a fog of static, an accident in an ink factory or great misfortune under a flock of seagulls. Not, in other words, fit for your typical boardroom.
You have to look beneath the pizzazz to see the panache - a plain version of these suits, as will almost certainly be made available, would be a winner. Indeed, perhaps that is what great menswear, as opposed to great fashion, really boils down to: more of what men have worn for more than a century, done better. It is not an idea many designers are happy admitting to. "The owl is the symbol of total knowledge and wisdom and it was all about Dionysus and the myths behind all types of creatures," Kean Etro has been quoted as saying in explanation of his autumn/winter collection. The result? Un-Olympian but utterly wearable quilted car-coats, lush, autumnally hued leathers and fresh, easy suiting. And no need for any flannel at all.