Question: Since you are so obviously opposed to white belts, what do you suggest that I wear with white pants or a light tan suit? _ J. S., St. Petersburg Answer: While it is true that a white belt might seem the logical choice with white trousers and suits, this all-white image looks like a uniform and evokes memories of the Good Humor Man. Most white belts accompany leisure suits, bell-bottom trousers, or the plaid-shirt-over-plaid-pants horrors one sees from time to time.
It is interesting which solid-color rules seem to disturb people. Many men have difficulty not wearing white shoes and white belts with white pants, but no man would think he ought to wear a green belt and green shoes with his olive pants.
Contrast is an essential ingredient in dressing well. With a white suit, white pants, or khakis, the man-about-town wears a toasty brown (a slightly orangy-brown shade) leather belt. This color looks especially good in braided leather.
One new version of belt that is handsome with white casual pants combines white canvas and brown braided leather. The front section includes a leather buckle and several inches of brown leather on either side. This variation breaks up the solid-white look.
Some styles just don't look right _ they lack grace, class andelegance _ no matter how sensible they may seem.
Father's Day favorites
Question: I am a secretary to a man who just became a father. That leaves me yet another holiday to shop for him. He is extremely fashion-conscious, and I thought you might have some gift ideas. _ R. F., San Diego
Answer: Assuming you're not the mother of the child, I see no reason why you should feel obligated to buy a gift. But, this is certainly a great year for Father's Day gifts. If you want to find him something in menswear, accessories are all the rage.
French cuff shirts and the requisite cufflinks are back in style. Patterned socks are fun to give and to receive. And belts today have subtle variety in the use of skins, smooth or braided leathers, matte or shiny surfaces, mixes of canvas and leather, and cotton sports designs.
Even neckties have enough new patterns and colors to make them interesting _ rather than boring _ gifts this year. A man in my audience once said he believed no one should ever give a necktie without giving the right shirt to go with it. That was before prices zoomed to today's levels. But, the additional service (and generosity) of pairing a tie with a well-coordinated pocket square would surely be an appreciated gift.
Men never seem to buy certain luxuries for themselves, such as linen handkerchiefs, cashmere socks, silk boxer shorts, antique stud sets, leather luggage tags, French fragrances, a silver key chain, a gold pen, a new umbrella or a terry robe. Of course, some of these would not be appropriate for a secretary to give her boss.
Men are known for hanging onto their old, dilapidated wallets until someone gives them a new one. Now is the time. While the bulky velcro-closing designs that some men stuff into their pockets are not the most sought-after, still they are comfortably affordable. For something more elegant, any leather _ from smooth calf to the most extravagant and urbane alligator _ makes a wonderful gift. They all function equally well.
The deciding element usually is cost. Think: "What can I afford?" and "Would he enjoy and appreciate the difference?"
When a sweater
Question: Like Bill Cosby, I find I look best in a sweater at home. Is there any way I can incorporate sweaters into more of my wardrobe?
Answer: Some men collect sweaters like others collect old baseball cards. It is just as addictive _ and less expensive than a Mickey Mantle rookie card.
The classic dresser prefers smooth-knit traditional styles: vests, long-sleeved polo shirts or rugby styles in cotton or wool, cardigans, scratchy Shetlands and cushy cashmeres. He stays with V-necks and quiet, unobtrusive colors: navy, gray, burgundy, maybe dark green. He is likely to wear gray flannels, cavalry twills, corduroys or cotton chino non-pleated pants. To be daring, he may substitute pleated pants (with a very shallow pleat) for his straight-front khakis.
The more updated dresser finds bulky, patterned sweaters the answer to every casual situation, varying from rugged white (actually off-white) cable-stitched Irish fisherman styles, to Ralph Lauren rich-country-gentleman looks. Fibers of choice are heavy smooth-knit cottons, merino wools, plus, perhaps, one wonderful cashmere. Patterns are recognizable: snowflakes, sail boats, stars, bold stripes. Colors are clear, often bright: such as yellow, red, white and royal blue. He owns mostly crew-necks and perhaps a few V-neck styles.
For the stylish dresser, the sky is the limit. He goes all out with "designer sweaters" from Italy in every conceivable pattern, texture and mix of fibers. This guy would not be caught dead wearing a V-neck sweater. Designs are abstract, and the colors are pretty fancy, with lots of black.
With his patterned sweater, he may wear a shirt in a second pattern. This two-pattern look can be pretty hard to pull off.
Stop into a fine men's store for a quick instant-education. Ask to see their Lacoste or V-necked cashmere sweaters as examples of group No. 1; the Ralph Lauren Polo sweaters for group No. 2; and for group No. 3, their collections from Armani, Valentino, Missoni or Jhane Barnes.
Corporate culture dictates what is accepted for daytime business attire.
But for casual after-hours _ all of these sweater options are open to you. The only restrictions are those made by your own personality.
Lois Fenton, author of Dress for Excellence, conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country. She welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally. Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731.