Q Why don't you tell men how silly it is to buy good suits and then have rectangular shapes bulging in their pockets? It ruins the look. What should a man carry in his pockets so he doesn't look like a bulging pack rat?
A: Women friends of mine (and I) wonder how a man can go out of the house for 12 or 14 hours at a time with nothing in his pockets that will bulge. A pen, a pencil, a cough drop, memo pad, wallet, keys, change, checkbook, glasses, sunglasses, handkerchief -- where do they all go? In a briefcase, it is easy to stash a whole slew of items that a man might need in the course of a day. Topcoats or trench coats provide five or six additional pockets for carrying keys, gloves, sunglasses and other bulk items.
Most European men would not consider stuffing anything into a shirt pocket and no more than a silk pocket square into their jacket's breast pocket. Instead, they carry a small leather handbag. Of course, American men would die before carrying one. They'd much rather bulge. But women, who suffer from heavy purses and sagging shoulders, cannot understand how a man can expect to go out looking smooth and sleek if he totes nothing along to carry all of his gear.
Each man has his own list of essential items. One of my private consulting clients never goes anywhere without a mini-tape recorder. When we shop for his new suits, I arrange with the tailor to create a small pocket inside each jacket to accommodate the device. Organize, organize! Ask yourself, as many a husband has asked about his wife's purse: What do you really need? Of course, some men carry a wallet, keys, and rTC nothing else. But for most, rethink your collection and eliminate. Now, when fuller cuts are in style, it is easier. But before pleated pants became popular, a friend told me he pared down to only one credit card and a few large bills in a slim leather card case tucked into a trouser pocket -- admittedly to avoid bulges. More realistically, many men carry cash in a money clip to eliminate the bulk of a wallet. (And I've heard of more than a few men who fill their wives' purses with much of their own paraphernalia.)
A clue: When being fitted for a new suit, insist upon putting your usual carry-along items into your pockets so the tailor can make the needed adjustments.
Q: I'm not an executive and I don't have a manager's income. I'm a blue-collar worker. But when I'm on my own time I like to be well-dressed. What can I do -- without a big bankbook -- to look good?
A: The first and easiest way to save money on clothes is to take proper care of the ones you already own. Hanging suit jackets on thick hangers instead of the wire variety, cleaning spotted clothes promptly, using shoe trees (when the shoe is still warm from wearing), protecting shoes with wax (especially in bad weather), and allowing suits and shoes to rest a few days between wearings -- all extend the life of your wardrobe.
Careful grooming costs little, but pays big dividends.
Equally important in a well-planned "how-to-look-good-for-less" program is understanding color coordination. Color is free. It costs not one more cent to combine colors handsomely than to do it poorly.
Recently, after speaking for an insurance association's meeting at the Greenbriar Hotel, I attended the group's evening reception. The president of the organization was handsomely turned out in a charcoal gray suit, sky blue shirt and beautiful blue-and-gray patterned tie. I complimented him on his choices. He responded that others, too, had commented on his sophisticated combination. He explained: "After listening to your presentation, I went to the hotel men's shop and looked for a tie that repeated the colors in the suit and shirt that I had packed for the meeting."
A silk pocket square that picks up the color of either the tie or the shirt adds a colorful finishing touch for a small investment. Pocket handkerchiefs that work with suits or blazers cost about $10.
Sometimes you don't even need to buy anything new. An open mind and a discerning eye may unearth -- from your own closet -- the perfect item to cap off a polished combination.
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.