In 2015 it seemed like there was no limit to how outré men's high fashion could become. Who could forget the Rick Owens runway show at which the rock-star designer cut holes in the crotches of his garments to expose his models' nether regions? Or Olivier Rousteing's debauched (and hugely expensive) menswear collections for Balmain? From clashing colours to wildly exaggerated silhouettes, the prevailing mood in the world of men's fashion was one of abandon.

That rebellious feeling, it turns out, was not to last. At the recent menswear events in London, Milan and Paris (which showcased garments from the spring/summer 2017 collections), designers retreated en masse to positions of safety. Some might point to the social, economic and geopolitical uncertainty of recent months as a reason for the shift, but the most likely cause is fundamental: today's menswear collections are more closely scrutinised than ever before. High-end men's fashion is now a multibillion-dollar business, and designers are feeling the pressure to appease the crowds and turn a profit.

Instead of bizarre colours and avant-garde concepts, many brands opted for classic, bright tones and nostalgic aesthetic motifs. "Rich colours have played a large role in SS17 so far," notes Robert Ferris, head buyer at luxury department store Harrolds. Paired with feel-good themes like surfing and holidaying, these brightly coloured fabrics have led to garments that are both fun and reassuring.

"Thom Browne's show was, as always, one of the highlights of the season," says Ferris by way of example. "SS17 placed the Thom Browne man at the beach and expanded the repertoire of the label once again. It was a witty show and the combination of suits and surfwear shed new light on the brand's thematic journey."

Visual strength

Browne added a touch of excitement to the runway by masking his models' faces, but the clothes themselves were, for the most part, conservative.

Emporio Armani prioritised comfort and visual strength for SS17, grouping its collection of relaxed trousers, graphic-printed shirts and deep-hued jackets under the thematic banner of "Identity".

Similarly, well-established formal brands such as Pal Zileri and Berluti offered charming and wearable variations on classic suiting that were masculine without being severe.

"Pal Zileri had a really interesting collection this season," says Ferris. "There was a youthful vibrancy alongside the perfectly balanced tailoring that the brand is famous for."

Elsewhere, "the relaxed styling of the clothes by heritage house Berluti were beautiful both for the materials used and their wearability," says Michael Pickering, editor of Men's Style.

As men's high fashion becomes increasingly mainstream and globalised, key designers are reaching for styles and patterns that evoke archetypal faraway places – locales that seem equally exotic to consumers in San Francisco and Seoul.

Influential player

One of the spring/summer 2017's most talked-about men's collections was Kim Jones's effort for Louis Vuitton, which has become an increasingly influential player in menswear in recent years.

"Jones's fascination with Africa continues to produce a rich vein of work," says Pickering, "with lush prints on silk, tribal details and a general punk-on-safari vibe."

The collection's key pieces, which were widely Instagrammed, were a series of mohair sweaters, patterned like the hides of various safari animals and brightly coloured.

The concept of travelling to exotic locations also informed the bold and bright collections of Paul Smith and Balmain, says Pickering. "I particularly enjoyed the way Paul Smith used vibrant colour to remind us of the virtues of peace and positivity in a retro-ish, Rastafarian-influenced collection," he says.

Several trends that featured prominently in recent seasons were reprised for SS17, albeit by a smaller number of brands. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Hermès continued to combine leisurewear styling with more traditional "high fashion" silhouettes, while Dior Homme and Givenchy referenced hyper-masculine aesthetics like 1970s punk and 20th-century military gear in their collections.

Deconstructed tailoring – that is, garments with unfinished hems and the seams facing outwards – continued to resonate with designers, including Valentino. And, for his first collection at Balenciaga, man-of-the-moment Demna Gvasalia (who shot to fame as the head of cult label Vetements) continued high fashion's recent experiment with volume by sending cartoonish suiting down the runway, some pieces wildly oversized and others incredibly slim.

Meanwhile, two Australian brands created positive chatter. Melbourne house Strateas Carlucci became the first Australian brand to be granted a runway show in Milan, where it shared billing with titans such as Prada. The brand made explicit its aim to create unisex clothes by sending both male and female models down the runway, decked out in baggy silhouettes and vinyl jackets.

Effortlessly sophisticated

Sydney label Song For The Mute did not score a runway slot in Paris but showed its wares to fashion buyers regardless and recorded strong foot traffic. The brand's SS17 collection was quietly and effortlessly sophisticated, using a primarily Japanese vocabulary to communicate new ideas about formalwear. Lightweight fabrics including rayon featured prominently, and the brand debuted pieces made from Cognac-soaked cotton yarn, which is dry to handle and repels body heat.

Perhaps the best collection to look at to understand SS17 menswear is that of Rick Owens, the one-time enfant terrible whose runway shows often represent the most extreme end of the high-fashion spectrum. For his SS17, Owens designed what some pundits have called his softest and most romantic collection yet. Billowing fabrics and exquisite draping indicated that even Owens may be tiring of the outrageous and the shocking. His bestselling item, the leather jacket, was also present in a significant number of variations, reminding everyone that men's fashion is, indeed, a commercial enterprise.

The upside of so many designers playing it safe this season was that relatively few eyesores reached the runway. But some questionable trends and bizarre model/garment combinations persisted.

"Please, no more short shorts, particularly on chicken-legged male models," says Pickering, singling out Christopher Shannon and E Tautz as particularly egregious offenders. "They look ridiculous!"

The spring/summer 2017 men's fashion week collections wrap up at New York, for five days starting on Monday, July 11.Read more | evening dresses