Advice came straight from the top

Candid Closet

March 06, 1997|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Jeffrey Jay Block, a broker with Berkshire Associates, an old Baltimore insurance and investments firm, learned style from the greats. Shortly after a post-graduate year in Paris, Block returned to Baltimore with professional and political aspirations.

At the time, one Mayor Theodore McKeldin gave him some unforgettable advice: "All you've learned in college won't meant anything. But a beautifully cut suit and tie will legitimize you as a young man in the circle you want to hang out in."

"He was absolutely right," Block says.

How did you come to appreciate the mayor's wisdom?

Before a meeting with a potential client, I went to Baltimore's only English haberdasher, Eddie Jacobs' brother Billy Jacob. He had the Canterbury Shop on North Charles Street, a really elegant place. I bought a $300 Norman Hilton cashmere suit. It took almost all of my money. I had it tailored and took the meeting with the banker. When he walked in, we both had the same suit on. From then on, I knew that what McKeldin said was legitimate. Without me saying a word, the beautifully tailored suit said everything I wanted to say to him.

How did you cultivate a sense of style over the years?

I just became more aware of developing a style and good taste. I was helped, though, because I didn't believe I knew everything. Purveyors of beautiful clothes like Billy Jacobs and Eddie Jacobs would help me toward continuing to develop a style. I didn't want to be too flashy.

I think that I dress like a gentleman, I really do.

Where do you shop?

In Maryland, I must confess to you, I have three places I go regularly. At C-mart, they have unbelievable stuff. Very, very beautiful high fashion, Italian stuff. I love bargains. Marshalls is also extremely important and finally the Nordstrom rack.

Outside of Baltimore?

My favorite place is Sulka, an old French line that has been in Manhattan for about 75 years. It's so difficult to get in. Once, the doorman asked the couple ahead of us if they had reservations. This place has the best silk ties, the best silk pajamas, Sea Island cotton shirts. When they have half price stuff at different times of the year, I'll go.

What's your worst fashion memory?

One of my worst experiences happened when I was in New York. Somebody asked one of the people I was with where the Ralph Lauren store was and I pointed to someone wearing a Polo hat, and a Polo sweater and said, "Follow him."

Wearing it all like that is terrible. That's missing the whole point of what a designer wants.

How important are shoes to you?

In London, someone once tried to talk me into a pair of $1,500 shoes. But the problem with wearing a pair that expensive is that then you don't want to let anybody get near you. It's like having to park your car five blocks away so no one will park next to you. You go completely nuts with the shoes.

I have a couple pair of Gucci shoes, I've gotten them on sale at Gucci. If they get scuffed, they get scuffed.

you toss clothing periodically?

People ought to wear what they have. The clothes I get are the very best. I wear them for a long time. I see no reason to get rid of them, if some fashion god says to get rid of them.

Some of the clothes I hold on to are reminders of romance. I hold on to those as a talisman. I have the shirt I got married in in 1974. I keep it in my closet. I haven't worn it in 20 years. But if I get rid of it, something bad will happen.

What's your best fashion story?

I had the privilege to meet one of my idols, Fred Astaire. I couldn't help but ask him about his clothes.

He told me he would go and get beautiful clothes he wore in the movies, and he would take them home and throw them against the wall and step on them, so the clothes knew who was boss. Clothes are to be enjoyed and appreciated, but never intimidating.

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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