Q: My husband is retired (in his 50s). We live in a rural area. In summer he wears jeans and a T-shirt; in winter he adds a flannel shirt. For Easter and Christmas, he'll wear his only suit (medium blue). In May we are going on a one-week Caribbean cruise (three ports). My job is to outfit him without having to purchase a lot of clothes he'll never wear again. Can you help?
A: For daytime activities on any ship, a few nice casual summer clothes (shorts, lightweight slacks or jeans, T-shirts, polo shirts, swim suit) are perfect on board and in port. Go easy on the polyester. The heat and humidity of the Caribbean require cotton for comfort.
What you wear at night depends on the cruise line and the length of the cruise. On short cruises, where clothes tend to be a great deal more relaxed, you can just about throw a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts into a duffel bag and hop on board. The longer the cruise, the more formal.
The main problem I see is the medium-blue suit for evenings. There are always men who unapologetically wear a nice dark blue suit, white shirt, and dark tie instead of black tie for dressy evenings. You might consider buying a new darker blue suit. On less formal ships, a navy blazer and gray slacks will do. Two shirts, one white and one blue, plus a couple of silk ties add variety. These classic items will expand your husband's holiday and special occasion wardrobe as well.
From 10 days on up, events on board become rather elaborate: One or two "formal" nights (usually black tie), several "informal" evenings (a suit or blazer and tie -- actually much more grand than informal means at home), and a couple of "casual" nights (generally a jacket but no tie).
Since a one-week cruise falls in the middle between the two styles, the safest bet is to consult a travel agent about the ship you are sailing on. Cruises run the gamut from extremely casual to quite formal.
TH Q. With all the new wild ties out today, what is the current "right"
tie for interviewing and working? Is more creativity expected in the 1990s? How much is too much?
A: Ties today are freer in design, more innovative in color, and a good bit wider than they have been for some time.
The small, reticent "neats" of the '70s were appropriate then and now for interviews. The overscaled, offbeat ties of the late '80s looked great on TV news anchormen or worn to a party with a blazer, but were questionable with a suit to the office.
Instead of the more assertive, avant garde scenics and huge paisleys of the '80s, today's ties combine imaginative patterns and a unique subtlety of color. XMI, for instance, has a new group that includes stylized patterns based on old-time marbles, cruise ships, and baby tigers -- none of which are obvious. You must really study them up close to see exactly what the pattern depicts. Their quiet whimsy is part of what makes them so appealing.
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.