Q: My boyfriend likes cuff links, but I'm not crazy about many of his choices. What are the criteria for cuff links in good taste?
A: The ugliest cuff links I ever remember seeing were gracing the wrist of a CEO who should have known better. Gracing is not the right word. They were dominating the wrist of this otherwise well-dressed man.
The near quarter-size cuff links were blue carved Wedgwood china disks that would have filled any little girl with delight as dinner plates in her doll house. Despite the beautiful color and fine workmanship, their enormous size made them monstrosities. For cuff links, coin-sizes over a nickel qualify as enormous.)
Besides being functional, clothes are supposed to make two contributions to one's appearance: adding beauty, and directing the eye to the wearer's face. This also explains why distractions, such as white shoes, saucer-sized belt buckles, and in this case overscaled cuff links, pull the eye to parts of the body that should not be emphasized: the feet, the waist and the wrist.
Cuff links should accent the suit, not dominate it. Baldly obvious touches detract. Beautiful cuff links -- an elegant finishing touch to an otherwise quietly handsome ensemble -- should be simply styled, most often gold (or gold plate), sometimes silver. They may have opaque stones. (Only as part of a formal-dress stud set are clear or glittery stones considered in good taste.)
There is a beautiful new book, "Cuff Links," by Susan Jonas and Marilyn Nissenson, published by Harry N. Abrams Inc. If a splurge is in order, buy him the book as a gift with a set of cuff links both of you will like.
Q: I have been looking throughout Ontario for a simple white shirt with jet black (not gray black) 1/4 -inch pinstripes, with a button-down fairly high collar, and possibly sleeves long enough to use cuff links with.
I can't even find the fabric. Would I have to go overseas to get this exotic material? Any help you might be able to give me would be very much appreciated.
A: No wonder you have not had any luck; such a shirt would not be possible to find.
First, because a "simple" (translate that standard or traditional)white shirt does not come with jet black pinstripes. It is, as you have discovered, likely to come in dark gray or blue stripes. It might be helpful to know that such a striped fabric in any color is often known as a bengal stripe. Such a black-and-white stripe does not come in conventionally cut shirts: you must search in small specialty shops catering to men who dress in a fashion-forward style.
The next obstacle in your hunt is finding a shirt that has both a button-down collar and French cuffs (for wearing with cuff links). Shirts are not made that way because fashion authorities feel that the two styles do not go together. It should be one or the other. French cuffs only come on shirts with straight-point collars, spreads or tab collars.
For a shirt to be worn with cuff links, it doesn't simply require longer sleeves. French cuffs are specially cut with a folded back wrist treatment, different from the standard button-cuff shirt sleeve -- correctly called barrel cuffs.
If you are determined to have a shirt with all of these features, it would be logical to go to a "made-to-measure" shop. You won't need to find the fabric; they will have it among their swatches.
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.