Q In an earlier column you mentioned wearing a business suit with a full-bodied white shirt. I had imagined that tapered dress shirts could be used in place of the standard cut by anyone who had a slender enough torso to manage. Are there other criteria?
A: You have hit on an interesting dilemma: How to dress to show off one's well-maintained -- or perhaps newly arrived at -- trim self and still dress like a "gentleman." For years elegant, upper-crust menswear has been synonymous with easy-fitting -- if not downright full -- clothes.
Over the years, what we have always thought of as Ivy League suits were square and sack-like. The other extreme, known as European styling, was a bit slick, exaggerated, and tapered, not loose and easy. More recently, these two extremes have come much closer together.
Elegant Europeans are now wearing decidedly more comfortable cuts, and corporate America is wearing suits that have a hint more shape.
To answer your question about shirts: A man can never go wrong by choosing the full "gentleman's cut" from conservative manufacturers, such as Brooks Brothers, Troy Guild, Hathaway and Gant. These are correct in any business environment.
On the other hand, it is hard to deny one's right to be proud of a body in good shape.
Even some of the most traditional manufacturers now make slightly trim "slim-fit" cuts. But no man of style would in this decade wear "tapered" shirts or shirts fitted with darts. That look went out with "Saturday Night Fever." As good as he looked, John Travolta was not known for sophistication or elegance.
Flaunting satisfies a certain inner need, but it must be done with taste and an objective eye toward the mirror. Be certain your shirts (and the body inside them) do not strain the buttons. The poured-in-and-forgot-to-say-"when" look shows not much class and little judgment.
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.