Q I have no problem putting together outfits for work. But which casual clothes look best on me are another story. Any ideas?
A: I'm going to risk my credibility by advising a notion that is foreign to men: Try on various different combinations in your wardrobe to decide which ones look best.
Typically, removing a wrong-choice necktie and substituting an other one is as close to this concept as any man has ever ventured. But, spending half an hour in the privacy of your bedroom in front of a brutally honest mirror (full length!) checking out alternative mix-and-match combinations can help you find which ones make the best -- most flattering -- match-ups.
At the beginning of each new season, the super-organized scan their closets for rejects and repairs. Admittedly, "trying on" are dirty words to most men. Still it is the only way to determine what has become ill-fitting, dated and unbecoming. Pull things out and look at them. Decide what you still like. Look at yourself in the mirror as though you were another person seeing you for the first time.
Determine which items go together. No matter what the salesman told you about the versatility of a particular garment, there is always a preference; one style looks better than another. The loose linen shirt may be better than the bulky cotton sweater with khakis. The pleated pants may hide a paunch better than last year's tight jeans. Certain colors are more flattering than others.
This idea may seem a vain endeavor (in both senses of the word), but it's a wise investment of your time. Everyone has experienced a time when he looked in the mirror of the office men's room and saw either a better -- or worse -- combination than he realized he was wearing. A few minutes before the mirror in your bedroom would give you this information in advance.
Q: Can a seersucker suit be worn to work? And if so, what do I wear with it?
A: It depends upon the formality of your work environment. If the men in your office wear only deep blue and dark gray suits year-round, then probably a seersucker suit is too light-colored and informal. But if khaki suits appear in spring and summer and if men wear sports coats on Fridays to suit the weekend-is-coming syndrome, your corporate culture is likely to embrace a seersucker suit.
Because a seersucker suit has a somewhat offbeat "personality," the rest of the outfit should be more standard. A light blue-and-white seersucker mates perfectly with a white oxford cloth button-down shirt. Avoid the expected blue shirt with blue seersucker; two shades of light blue are nearly impossible to harmonize well. A pale yellow or fresh pink cotton shirt blends nicely with seersucker's casual texture.
As to ties, stay with styles on the conservative side. Today's bold avant-garde patterns seem somehow discordant with the quiet "old money" tone of seersucker. Dark, small-patterned foulards and sedate red-and-blue wide stripes are better.
If you crave something unorthodox with all this quiet tradition, try a pair of patterned to-the-calf socks, say, something with a discreet dark paisley design.
Incidentally, this is the one exception to the rule that a man should never break up his suit by wearing the jacket separately as a sports jacket. A light-colored seersucker jacket contrasts well over dark summer-weight trousers with no pattern, please. A light blue seersucker goes with navy pants; a gray jacket is a great summer look with a white or blue shirt and charcoal pants.
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.