Q. Most of the day I am in the offices of a corporation. However, my job deals with various facets of construction and maintenance of the stores within our chain. This requires me to be in the field at times and to deal with contractors and tradesmen. I would appreciate your advice if you feel a suit should be worn at all times (my position does require a shirt and tie), or if there may be other options acceptable.
A: It doesn't sound as though you must -- or even should -- always wear a traditional suit in your work situation. A blazer or sports jacket hanging on a chair is as formal as some managers get. It helps establish their authority but would be foolishly out of place worn on their backs.
Some men wear a sports jacket into the office and remove it most days as immediately as they do their outer gear.
In your situation, your daily activities might actually do damage to your clothes. It would be foolhardy to wear the sort of top-quality clothes that I am always advocating. Still, a manager is expected to look the part. One option is to carry the jacket slung over your shoulder rather than wear it -- not unlike the exec who drapes his jacket on a chair.
Several years ago, when I spoke for J. I. Case retail store managers (tractors and large farm equipment), this same question came up. They sell expensive equipment and must be helpful while looking successful.
Case does not want them to wear jeans, no matter how informally their farmer-customers dress. They might have to climb on and around a dirty tractor; expensive suits would get ruined. My advice: Wear a shirt and tie with a nice sweater, sports jacket or a good-quality windbreaker and not-too-terrific pants. If something dirty requires investigating, it's easy enough to remove the jacket and maybe pull on a pair of coveralls. Pull-on pants from nylon warm-up suits also work. Or try a trick from "Bright Work," a lovely book about maintaining classic wooden yachts, by Rebecca J. Wittman: "To protect your clothes choose something in a tasteful yellow construction rain suit; (a good one that won't fall apart the first time you bend over) usually costs around $20 at most."
Q: I got a rust stain on my favorite white shirt. A few weeks ago I made a spot on another shirt with a ball point pen. At the price of good cotton shirts today, I can't afford to lose two shirts from my wardrobe in such a short time. And I seem to stain a nice silk tie at lunch about once a month, if not more often. Do you have any advice for removing spots?
A: To remove rust spots from a white garment, apply fresh lemon juice and salt. Then hang in the sun.
Silk neckties seem especially susceptible to grease and oil stains. I would not be without a can of Goddard's Dry Clean or K2R spray (the miniature size fits neatly in an overnight kit, a briefcase or a desk drawer). They both remove grease stains (salad dressing or soup splashes). If one application does not do the trick, repeat. This should do it for silk.
For stains on washable cotton or blend fabrics, follow up the spray spot-removing procedure with an application of a grease-cutting laundry product (such as Wisk) directly onto the stained area. Allow some time for it to loosen the remaining stain. Then wash as usual. Use cool or warm, never hot, water to wash spots. Heat will set the stain.
Ball point ink stains are often beyond help. But if the spot is not too large and the item is washable, there is a secret solution. The blot can be removed or greatly lessened by spraying with hair spray. Put an absorbent cloth or blotter underneath the stained fabric to soak up the ink thus dissolved. Also dab the top with another cloth or paper tissues to absorb some of the ink after each spraying. Repeat the process. Keep moving the backing blotter, replacing it with a clean section so the stain is not transferred onto another portion of your garment. This can be tedious, but success is satisfying.
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.