Q: Enclosed is a picture of Pete Rose at an important meeting: double-breasted suit, shirt buttoned up, no tie. At an Emmy show on TV, men were in tuxes, one was in tails. All slicked up, and no ties. What is this sloppy dress idea? If it's supposed to look nonchalant, it sure doesn't. An open collar would look a lot better than being half dressed. Do restaurants that require jackets and ties let these fools in?
A: Apparently others agree with you. When I posed your question to the maitre d'hotel at Le Cirque, New York's premier French restaurant, his answer was, "We understand that some of these shirts may cost hundreds of dollars, but we insist that a gentleman wear a tie."
But, back to ordinary mortals. Certain styles are not designed to be worn by the guy next door -- the "everyman" that we all know. The crazy thing is that the same fashion that works for one man as high-style may transfer to another as a "Las Vegas look."
I agree that this new vogue of wearing a suit with a shirt buttoned up at the neck is a strange one. It does not look right on most men. This new style looks as if something were missing. On the other hand, a young creative type or slim fashion-forward dresser can wear it and create an up-to-the-minute stylish look. On men with a rugged, macho image the buttoned-up look somehow comes off all wrong. A few sports figures could pull it off to perfection: Michael Jordan comes to mind or maybe Pat Riley (although I doubt he would forgo a perfectly knotted tie).
In your photo the incongruity is further exaggerated by the dressy peaked-lapels on the double-breasted suit. The mixture does not quite suit Pete Rose. When trying to adopt an unfamiliar style, it is important to avoid any jarring inconsistencies. As an example, a common mistake is wearing a natural-shouldered Ivy League sack suit with a European-inspired narrow-collar shirt and a new flamboyant floral-and-fruit tie. Talk about mixing apples and oranges!
Q: How can I be sure if I buy the clothes I see in the Sunday fashion supplement that they will stay in style and not just turn out to be a fad?
A: A fad is something that is in for one, or at the most, two seasons, and then begins to change or disappear. A rapid exaggeration is the first clue that this is going to occur. Remember the Nehru jacket!
A more current example: Armani (that slavishly-followed-prophet
of the modern dresser) in just three seasons went from designing jackets with no shoulders, to very broad shoulders, to jackets with no shoulders (his new slouch suit). This too-rapid jumping around is an indication of a fad.
An example of a style with staying power: Shirt jewelry has come into prominence. Not overnight, but over the past few years. Ten years ago, haber--ers had very few cuff links. Now every men's shop has cases full of them. Such a trend -- obviously linked to the renewed popularity of French cuff shirts -- is likely to persist for awhile.
When something is around more than two or three years, such as wearing braces (suspenders) or pleated pants, men start to think about it seriously: "Maybe this is something I ought to try." On the other hand changes such as weird collars, odd-shaped shoulders, and departures from natural-fiber fashions, suddenly found in the trendier stores, prompt men to be cautious: "No, I might want to wait for a few years."
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.