Q: I bought an all-wool navy blazer and it didn't hold up. The collar lost its shape; you could see the lining underneath. I paid around $175 for it. The salesman said that happens less with a partly synthetic (wool blend) blazer. He said, spend your money on all-wool if that's what you want, but you're not going to get DTC the same long-lasting wear out of all wool as out of a blend. My new one only cost $100. The salesman assured me that it will hold up much better. This seems to contradict what you say in your column.
A: Write to me again in six months or a year. If the new wool-blend jacket looks good and gives you long wear, I will be very much surprised.
The collar losing its shape and the exposed lining had nothing to do with the type of fabric. Rather, it was the result of the construction of the jacket -- the way it was made. The interfacing inside the collar wasn't stiff enough or the collar was cut too short.
A navy blazer is one of the most basic and versatile wardrobe investments. It is wise to buy a good one and economize elsewhere.
Often, cheap is expensive. You would not expect to buy a great car for $1000. "Good" blazers normally run from $275 to $400 and beyond.
A blazer that costs $175 is a borderline purchase with a lot of "ifs": If you know the manufacturer, if you buy it on sale, if it is from a good discount outlet, or if you are knowledgeable about construction features such as whether the canvas between the visible layers of cloth is fused -- glued -- (and at that price, it is almost always fused). When these "ifs" add up to a better jacket than you would normally get for that price, then go ahead and buy such a blazer. But in all likelihood you got a $175 jacket for your $175 -- not usually enough to pay for fine fabric, careful tailoring, and the hidden elements that make for a long-lasting investment.
When two blazers are new, an inexpensive one and a well-tailored garment may look a lot alike. But after a few dry cleanings, flaws show up. The fused canvas interlining on the lesser jacket often separates, especially at the lapels. This rippling is a dead give-away that you bought a bargain . . . that wasn't.
Q: I care about my appearance, especially at work. Designer clothes are enormously expensive. Are they of high enough quality to be worth it? Is there some middle ground, perhaps without the labels, and within my budget?
A: When money is no object, anything goes. But when money is indeed a concern, it is essential to plan what you need before wandering into a store. Have a shopping list of exactly what you need -- if not in hand, at least in mind -- before you enter a store.
Economic conditions have forced apparel companies to do an about face. All of a sudden, shoppers -- or rather, the lack of shoppers -- have persuaded manufacturers to modify their strategy. If your taste runs to designer clothes, be aware of two trends: 1. Regular merchandise "on sale" or discounted up to 20 percent, and 2. What is known as "secondary" or "diffusion" lines. Designers have begun addressing "sticker shock" by creating these additional lines of slightly less expensive clothes.
Secondary collections offer designer-brand cachet (recognizable style-features, but with less costly fabrics and details) in clothes priced below the signature lines. Some of these are: Mani by Georgio Armani, Colours by Alexander Julian, JA II by Joseph Abboud, Pronto Uomo by Mondo, and B Free by M. Julian.
Avoid buying items that do not go with something you already have. Buy the tie for an outfit last. If you buy a teal-blue tie, you may end up needing something to match it.
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.