Q: Last summer for the first time, I started playing tennis with some of my business associates. The first time, I appeared with a blazer over my tennis clothes and felt remarkably out of place. The rest of the summer, I wore spring sweaters, which were more appropriate but still wrong and uncomfortable in the sweltering heat. By the end, I realized a windbreaker was the answer. I recently set out in advance of the tennis season to purchase my first windbreaker since childhood. I found designer windbreakers in the hundreds of dollars range, so I headed for a discount store where I found one for $20. When I tried it on at home, the zipper broke immediately. Is there any kind of happy medium, and are these even appropriate?
A: With weather that shifts from day to day at this time of year, many men welcome the lightweight layering a windbreaker provides.
Windbreakers have always been part of the male wardrobe. Boys wear them to school and continue as men to wear them for casual wear.
Today's windbreakers are stylish and versatile. In addition to cotton and nylon versions, they come in washed silks and microfibers -- very thin, tightly woven polyester fibers. According to Tom Julian, spokesman for the Men's Fashion Association, "Microfiber is the buzzword of '90s outerwear. It feels like suede, drapes like silk, and takes to both bright and muted spring colors." Another new fabric treatment is polymer-coated cotton, the fabric used for tents, awnings and canteen covers. It remains sturdy but gradually softens with wear.
Windbreakers vary from staple all-cotton waist-length baseball jackets (perfect for tennis) to fashionable hip-length versions. Styles are more hip as well. Bold blocks of color have moved them out of the utilitarian mold into fashion statements.
Prices range just as widely, from Lands' End's new cotton-lined nylon "Coach's Jacket" at $14.50 to Bullock & Jones' lamb's wool and cashmere Italian import for $595. These are better now than in summer.
Though the relaxed attitude of a windbreaker makes it wrong over a suit, it looks good layered over a sweater, a T-shirt, or a tennis shirt.
Q: Why do so many people seem to think that the word lady is a synonym for woman? In a recent column, you state, "You are certainly correct about wearing hats in the presence of a lady, when indoors, and especially while eating!"
Hats should not be worn indoors, except in a fashion show, in the presence of anybody!
If women (notice, I did not say ladies) really want "equality," they should not wear hats indoors. Since it is not proper for men to wear headgear inside, it is not proper for women to do so, either.
A: I must take issue with your notion that if it is not proper for men to wear hats indoors, neither is it proper for women. This sort of lumping together is not logical. There are men's clothes and women's clothes, and men's clothing etiquette and women's clothing etiquette. They are not the same.
For centuries, a woman's hat was part of her daytime costume. No well-bred "lady" ever stepped out of her home without her hat. She removed her coat when she arrived at her destination, but not her hat.
A man's hat is chosen to keep him warm, to look good with his facial features, and to add a stylish, finishing touch to his out-of-doors outfit. Traditionally, a woman's hat complements either her outdoor or her indoor costume; it is more decorative than functional. There is no reason why a woman who has chosen to wear a hat must remove it (except, of course, in the theater).
Though it may seem anachronistic to some feminists, we must come to grips with the reality that men and women dress differently, both for work and in social situations. Ideas of etiquette, comfort, and convenience which govern dress do not necessarily transfer from one sex to the other.
As for your initial semantic point about the word lady: When I refer to lady, I am paralleling gentleman (as woman parallels man). This parallels lord and lady -- not "hey, lady!"
*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.