Q: My wife is encouraging me to buy a light suit. I don't know if it is appropriate for work or should it be worn for social occasions?
A: A "light suit" for a man's summer wardrobe can mean any of three types of suits: 1) a light-colored and light-weight cotton seersucker suit, 2) a khaki-colored tropical-weight wool, or 3) a light-weight poplin suit that is just as likely to come in navy or deep gray as in tan. For this all-too-brief time of year, a little more leeway is allowed and somewhat more leisurely dress is not only tolerated but expected. It seems logical to add some variety.
The seersucker suit: The most informal (and often the least expensive) of the three, this all-American stiped cotton fabric has the shortest season and is the most limited in terms of wear. Usually light blue, it may be too casual for more rigid business environments. And even though TV's Ben Matlock wears his seersucker suit, as with white linen, it really is not totally appropriate after Labor Day.
Khaki-colored tropical-weight wool: An essential ingredient in the well-dressed wardrobe. Even if your office is so dark-suit oriented that no one wears a tan suit to work, this flattering style is great for weekend parties. It is a perfect fillip on balmy spring days, throughout the summer and well into the warm weather of autumn.
The poplin suit: In light shades of khaki or olive, the cotton poplin suit is worn for non-power situations. In dark tones of blue or gray, the poplin suit carries with it more prestige. (The more cotton in the content, the more comfortable.)
The two types of tan suits - khaki cotton and worsted wool - project two different images. The easily-wrinkled cotton suit is a favorite with entry-level men, academics, architects and other non-starched types. The more debonair tan wool is more formal than a cotton suit or wool blazer; still, it has less prestige than a dark wool suit.
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.