Q: My husband has always dressed for work in jeans and knit shirts, but, recently he was offered a wonderful opportunity in a company where everyone dresses beautifully.
Because we've always lived on a very tight budget, we need advice on how to build a wardrobe to carry him through the first couple of months in this new position. For his interview, we used BTC vacation money to invest in a charcoal pinstriped suit, white shirt, and paisley tie, which he feels had a lot to do with his being offered the job.
Can you help us with this problem?
A: You used the right strategy when you decided to "invest" in an interview outfit. And it paid off.
The minimum basic business wardrobe for a man who works in a clothing-conscious office is three suits, a navy blazer, and a pair of gray trousers.
Since the first suit you bought was a dark gray pinstripe, the next two should be solids: One dark blue and one slightly lighter medium gray (not too light). With these three basics, you can intermix most shirts and ties from traditional stripes and pin dots to the newer large foulards.
To get through the week, of course, you will need at least four more shirts. These might be solids and stripes in white and blue; in some offices this limited conservative mix is all that is worn. If the other men in the office include a touch of variety, try adding a fresh, soft shade of pink or the palest shade of ivory (a color resembling vanilla ice cream, not elevator-operator-uniform beige). More off-beat variations can come later.
Incidentally, if I were choosing a first suit for a man, I would probably not select the charcoal pinstripe. Not because it's incorrect, but because it's a bit dressy and has a pattern, making it less versatile than a solid gray. Your choice would come further along in my list, perhaps as a fifth suit (after a medium-dark blue). Still, it does make for an impressive image, and was a successful decision on your part -- perhaps because it suggested that there were others where that came from!
Q: My husband received a hunter green flannel blazer as a Christmas gift. It fits well, looks great, but we are not sure about what color trousers suit it best. Are tan/browns preferred or gray, or black, or all of the above? Hope you can help.
A: It is nice to have something out-of-the-ordinary to perk up your
winter wardrobe. Hunter green is a refreshing change from the usual navy blazer, but deciding how to combine it can present problems.
Green and gray are always good together. My first choice is a pair of dark oxford gray flannel trousers. This is the dressiest mix with a green jacket, (still, it's a less formal duo than a navy blazer and gray flannels). To dress it up, choose a white or blue shirt in broadcloth or pinpoint oxford cloth and a silk foulard tie. To dress it down, pair it with a tattersall check shirt (perhaps with a fine burgundy line) and a solid color tie or a wool challis tie. Finish off the look with dark cordovan-color laced shoes or burnished brown tasseled loafers.
For a more casual combination -- something you might wear to a neighborhood restaurant or to join friends for the latest video -- try the green jacket with pleated olive-beige wool cavalry twill pants or British tan (slightly on the brown side) heavy-weight cotton khakis. A turtleneck in burgundy cotton or soft buttery-yellow merino wool would be nice. A cashmere polo would be even nicer.
Also, as the weather changes and you no longer need a coat, you can treat the jacket as an outerwear piece with corduroy pants (perhaps in one of the new shades of rust or cinnamon) and a blue chambray or denim shirt. The rather --ing European style of adding a long fringed scarf to a sports jacket (without a coat) can work too. This is a nice weekend look even on this side of the Atlantic.
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.