Q. On Fridays in our office and at company conferences away from the office, the dress code is "business casual." For the women, this means pants are OK instead of skirts. Everyone likes the idea. I know what I'm doing with a suit, shirt and tie, but I have problems with this other kind of dressing.
A: You're in good company. Casual dressing is not easy for most men. But "business casual," sometimes called "Friday dressing," imposes another layer of nuances. Just how informal you can be and still meet acceptable standards varies. The most consistent rule seems to be -- no jeans.
In office settings where suits are the rule during the week, sports jackets and button-down shirts with ties are about as offhand as the men get. Still not every office permits relaxed dress, even on Fridays. Be sure you are not presuming such attire is acceptable.
In less executive environments, where sports jackets are worn during the week, extending-the-weekend feeling is expressed with khaki pants, nice sport shirts, no ties and every imaginable variety of sweaters: cardigans, crew necks and turtlenecks.
Sweaters range from the almost blazer-like "office cardigan" from Brooks Brothers (a single-breasted wool Italian import that comes in navy or medium gray), through classic solid-color V-neck pullovers and sweater vests, to high-styled exotic-patterned crew necks.
The trick in this kind of dressing is to avoid the "reach into the closet and pull out the first items you find" sort of sloppy weekend look. You're not wearing typical business attire, but your outfit should still have a plan. A coordinated color combination helps. If you wear gray pants a lot, look
for sweaters with gray in the pattern, or choose colors that go with gray: navy, burgundy, black, yellow, bright red.
If you mostly wear khaki, you're in luck this year. Stores have an array of great sweaters in earthy environmental colors: forest green, olive, orange, gold, off-white.
Incidentally, besides the no-jeans rule, you might also forget sneakers. Loafers, dark suede oxfords, camel chukka boots, even dock siders are much more appealing.
Q: What pants do I wear with a black blazer? I wear a double-breasted black gabardine blazer when most guys wear a navy blazer. What color should the pants be? I have a nice pair of greenish-olive flannels, but my wife says they don't go together. Could the jacket go with jeans? And what can I wear the olive pants with?
A: A black blazer works with all shades of gray pants from the lightest pearl gray, through medium, to dark charcoal. Or, as a stylish contrast, wear it with shades of brown ranging from off-white (known as winter white), through tan and khaki, to light/medium brown. A sophisticated combination pairs a black blazer with taupe trousers.
Besides solids, try pants in a small black-and-gray houndstooth check or glen plaid.
Not only is the color mix of black and your green pants not terrific, but the fabrics seem to be somewhat discordant. The texture of the pants should be less bulky and rugged than a fuzzy flannel. Better fabric choices would be light-weight wool, gabardine or ribbed cavalry twill.
Jeans are too informal to be "correct" with your jacket; nevertheless, it is a timely, off-beat look that works in quite a few social situations.
Your heather-green flannel pants would be great with a camel's hair blazer, a tweed jacket in beige or brown tones, a heavy hand-knit sweater in orange paisley pattern or a brown leather bomber jacket.
Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Today in Style, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Ms. Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally.
Ms. Fenton, the author of "Dress for Excellence" (Rawson Associates, $19.95), conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country.