A rainy day classic

DRESS FOR EXCELLENCE

February 19, 1992|By Lois Fenton

I was looking for a raincoat recently, and noticed that they still sell raincoats with removable linings. It struck me as a good investment. But I wasn't sure if it was fashionably correct or if it was even a professional look, especially if it flops open and the zipper shows.

You are right that some dual purpose clothes are far from elegant. Examples such as blazer suits (navy blue suits with brass buttons) and reversible vests come to mind. But a raincoat with a removable lining is one of the most established classic items a man can own. Burberrys, the Rolls-Royce of raincoats, makes a variety of coats in different cuts, weights and fabrics -- including the raglan-sleeve single-breasted, fly-front model and the weatherproof double-breasted trench coat designed for British officers in what the company refers to as the "14-18 War" (World War I). Most of these coats have removable linings, either zip-out or button-out. Prices range from $500 for a lightweight unlined model to over $1,200 for the all-cotton Trench "21" that features a full camel wool lining. The lined coats have button-on wool collars that can be removed in spring. The frugal rich wear the lined coat as a warm winter overcoat and, come March, without the lining and collar as a spring-weight shell. They may even wear it over black-tie clothes. They believe in buying the best, but feel that a man should get near-year-round wear for his investment.

Not every raincoat need be the top-of-the-line Burberrys. But it does set the style that many other manufacturers emulate.

I have read your recommendations about all-cotton shirts -- how much better they look and feel. But the upkeep is unrealistic. In the past when I've taken good shirts to the laundry, they came back with the buttons cracked or crushed.

Interestingly, it is usually the better shirts that have this problem -- shirts with fine natural, fragile mother-of-pearl buttons -- the very shirts you most want to take care of. The manufacturers I've discussed this with seemed less than fully aware of the extent of the problem. One of them had a "simple" solution: Take your shirts to a fine hand laundry. I wonder if he knew what an anachronism that is today!

Not every community has a hand laundry. And if it does, the cost is often prohibitive. But we all have our own priorities. For a favorite shirt, we may be willing to go overboard.

One solution is what I do with my much-loved white cotton skirt: I wash it at home and have it pressed. I follow my dry cleaner's instructions: I wash it with bleach added, and nothing else in the load except white towels, and tumble it dry; then I take it to the cleaner to press, just as he would a silk or wool garment. Of course, it is a nuisance, but the result is worth it.

For everyday practicality: When you buy new shirts, buy only one at a time from a new manufacturer. Each maker has his own idea of the ideal button. Gant, for example, uses plastic buttons that hold up under a lot of pressure. See which ones hold up best for you.

For your best shirts, try again. Don't assume all laundries are incompetent. Most will replace broken buttons. And ask around. If someone at work wears shirts that are meticulously ironed, find out where he takes them and whether he has them put on hangers or folded. He'll probably be flattered. Don't be shy.

Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, 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.

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