Q:I just found out on rather short notice that a one-week cruise vacation has become available. They had a cancellation, and this is a good time for me to take time off from work. I've never been on a cruise. What clothes should I take to be properly dressed on board and in the ports we will be visiting?
A: Most cruises these days emphasize casual dressing during the day and dressier clothes for evenings.
Still, casual does not mean down-home sloppy. Colorful sport shirts and cotton khakis are perfect daytime wear for breakfast, on-board lectures, lunch, trapshooting, playing shuffleboard, or sightseeing on shore. For more relaxed times -- morning exercises or to and from the pool -- shorts and a T-shirt might make more sense. Shorts are not allowed in the dining room, even at breakfast. That's why a lot of people eat lunch on deck at the poolside buffet.
The "Daily Program" that is slipped under your door each evening gives information on the next day's activities and what to wear for dinner. The options are: formal, informal, or casual.
For the one or two Captain's Dinner "formal" nights, a black-tie outfit is ideal -- either a black evening suit (tuxedo) or black trousers and white dinner jacket. Most men do wear formal dress on a ship, but if you do not have such an outfit and don't wish to buy one, you can get away with a well-cut dark suit, well-shined black shoes, white shirt, and dark tie -- perhaps a bow-tie.
You don't absolutely need a suit on board, but a blazer is a must. For "informal" nights, choose a suit, a silk sport jacket, or a blazer with nice pants, a shirt and a tie. Wear a dark blazer or seersucker jacket without a tie on evenings that call for "casual." Though casual at home means something far less dressy, dinner on a ship usually calls for a jacket.
Q: I need you to settle a bet. My friend and I both buy the shirts with two buttons on the sleeve. I say that the second button is a fashion, and he says that the second button is a spare to be removed and saved. Who is right?
A: One of the smallest points of difference is a dead give-away that a man does -- or does not -- know the finer points of dressing. It's that extra button on his shirt sleeve's cuff, the one that just sits there unbuttoned at the wrist.
Dress shirts fit for office wear are ideally marked with exact neck and sleeve sizes: a 15-inch neck and a
inch sleeve, for example. Traditionally, shirt makers produced full range of sizes in each style and color. The better manufacturers still do, running from 14 1/2 /32, 14 1/2 /33, 15/32, 15/33, 15/34, and 15/35 on up through 17 1/2 /36.
But many manufacturers have hit on a way to cut corners. They call it the "adjustable" sleeve length. It eliminates their need to produce shirts in every size. They make only two sleeve lengths -- designated 32-33 and 34-35. So instead of four accurately fitting size 15 shirts, you are given a choice of two -- neither of which is likely to be precisely your size. Here is where the "adjustable" feature comes in. An additional button has been sewn at the wrist allowing the wearer to tighten or loosen the cuff. This partially compensates for the sloppiness of the fit. It also announces to the world that you are not wearing a first-rate shirt.
It's best to buy shirts that come in a full range of accurate sizes (admittedly, these are slightly more expensive than double-button cuff shirts.) But if you are a 32 1/2 or 24 1/2 sleeve size -- the actual length of those 32-33 and 34-35 combos -- and discover an adjustable shirt that you really like, here's what to do. Wear the shirt and determine which is the correct button, then cut off the other one. Save it in case you lose a button. Now the world will never know that you did not buy the very best.
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.